It’s been six months since North Las Vegas launched its Small Business Connector center, a one-stop shop inside City Hall for small businesses to receive support and funding.

Since then, the program has helped hundreds of businesses in Southern Nevada, and this month it increased the amount of funding available to existing businesses.

“We were just finding that the need was really great,” said Rich Easter, director of grants development and administration for North Las Vegas. “We talked to our underwriters, and we realized that a lot of these organizations that were asking for bigger dollar amounts could actually qualify for those amounts if we had lifted those ceilings.”

It’s no secret that the pandemic wreaked financial havoc on small businesses throughout the country, even with the availability of federal aid programs and grants like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. And the latest data from Harvard University’s research lab Opportunity Insights shows Nevada’s small-business community has still not fully recovered.

It found the number of small businesses open in the state decreased by 17.6 percent as of Jan. 16, compared with the number from January 2020. Nationally, the number of small businesses open increased by 2.9 percent for the same period.

With inflation soaring to 8.5 percent in March, the largest increase since December 1981, it will continue to be a challenging environment for small businesses, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

“With inflation, an ongoing staffing shortage, and supply chain disruptions, small-business owners remain pessimistic about their future business conditions,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg in a report this week.

A helping hand

Easter said the city is well aware of the challenges local companies face, and that’s why the city launched the connector in October.

“As we enter this recovery period coming out of COVID-19 and the pandemic it’s important that we focus on our small business community,” he said. “They are our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our kids, and we need to make sure that they have the resources and the support they need not only to survive the pandemic but to really thrive through it.”

The center is supported by public and private partnerships, and it’s open to any Southern Nevada business. The center’s loan program, Invest NLV, is open only to companies registered in North Las Vegas.

Entrepreneurs and business owners can find aid from UNLV’s Small Business Development Center on growing or even starting a new business, get help finding employees at the Employ NV Business Hub and receive assistance when applying for a business license or permit through the city.

The connector has supported 412 businesses with more than half being minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned businesses.

Having access to a several services in one place is an improvement, said Easter.

“Before the connector, you were having to do a lot of driving and calling different numbers to find information,” he said. “Now, everything is in city hall — that centralization of all these different supports in one geographic location is what really sets us apart.”

Financial support

Companies based in North Las Vegas also can apply to its Invest NLV revolving loan fund.

Easter said the city earmarked $2 million from its share of the American Rescue Plan stimulus package towards funding startups and existing businesses. Once funded, companies also receive free business counseling.

“Research has shown when you provide that kind of support, it really helps your repayment success rates go way up,” Easter said. “It’s not that kind of cold relationship with a bank where it’s like, ‘Here’s your money. Good luck. We hope you pay, but if you don’t, we’ll come for your business.’”

He said the city has funded 18 companies, representing a total of $354,450 in low-interest loans. But Easter said those numbers will increase soon because it’s currently processing applications.

Loan amounts vary depending on the business. Startups, or companies less than a year old, can receive up to $10,000. An existing small business can receive up to $45,000, which is up from the original funding cap of $25,000.

Easter said interest in the Small Business Connector center is growing. The goal is to empty its pot of $2 million into local companies.

“When we have people calling, walking in and stopping by at this rate, it makes us know that we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “That we’re putting the resources that we’ve been given in the places that it can really make a difference and help.”

Contact Subrina Hudson at [email protected]. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.