In the last month, the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce has quietly made a name as the local experts for small business owners struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The chamber is not doling out cash, but it is sharing information — lots of it.
The LGBT chamber in recent years has been highly visible with monthly networking happy hours and its sold-out awards gala, but its true impact on the greater Charlotte community is less obvious. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the organization’s stature in the business community.
In the last month, the chamber worked with its affinity partners, Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber, Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte and Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, to create supportCLT. It is a comprehensive reservoir of information for small business owners and nonprofits. There is a website with links to everything from the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to the United Way Non-Profit Grant — COVID-19. There is also a hotline answered by a live person on weekdays.
“This is a repository of the resources in the area,” said Chad Turner, president of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
The organization is also promoting LGBTQ-owned businesses and allies on its website Spendlgbt. On Friday, the LGBT Chamber will roll out a schedule of free webinars to help small businesses during the pandemic.
“If we’re going to welcome everyone, we’re going to be in this together. Part of practicing that is being there for everyone and not seeing ourselves as most LGBT groups do at times,” Turner said. “If small businesses survive it helps everybody.”
supportCLT provided data and worked with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance to push for more local resources for small businesses. The efforts paid off. On Tuesday, the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners approved emergency loan programs to help small businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really proud of the work that they’re doing,” said Janet LaBar, president of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. “It’s needed and necessary.”
According to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, small businesses with less than 50 employees make up about 92 percent of the Charlotte region’s businesses and employ an estimated 40 percent of the workforce. Micro businesses with less than 5 employees make up about 52 percent of the Charlotte region’s businesses and employ an estimated 6 percent of the workforce.
“We’re sort of like the stepchild that the economy doesn’t pay attention to that much, but we’re the little engine that keeps the economy going,” said Sharon Blumberg, owner of I’m Not Done Yet.
Blumberg connected with supportCLT through Facebook after her coaching business went from climbing significantly over the last few years to falling to zero revenue last month. Since working with supportCLT, she has applied for several grants for assistance.
Blumberg’s story is typical.
Turner said the hotline receives 60 to 100 calls per day and about 200 unique website visitors. Half of the inquiries are regarding SBA assistance. Most have been from businesses that employ less than 50 people, and 30 percent are sole proprietors. He said 46 percent of the calls are from people of color and 16 percent are women-owned businesses.
Turner said about 4 percent of the people who called went out of business, ranging from hair salons to landscapers. Much of the media attention has focused on restaurant owners as the face of small businesses that have been impacted by the virus. Professionals, such as private attorneys, accountants and doctors, are small business owners as well.
“These are businesses that are not coming back,” he said.
Added Shante Williams, chair of Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber, these are the types of businesses and business owners who are consistently underfunded.
“They just didn’t fit into the classic mold by SBA standards or any other regulatory standards,” she said. “Minority-owned, Latino-owned, women-owned [businesses] have had to bootstrap their way through. That means you are using your own money to stay afloat.”
supportCLT team members participate in daily webinars to stay abreast of the latest news. Turner said it is the only hotline for small businesses in the state.
The LGBTQ chamber is an affiliate of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and a diversity partner of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. It is not the first place that most people think of as a resource for small businesses.
“If we expect the greater community to support us during times of Pride or during times of crisis when we’re trying to get equal rights… or to donate to our non-profits,” he says, “we can’t expect that reciprocal relationship if we’re not out there doing the same for them when they need us the most.”
This is definitely one of those times.