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New business applications in SC jump as COVID-19 pandemic changes work for many

Good Done Great has new mobile app (copy)

David Barach and Earl Bridges (right) were partners in Good Done Great. After the sale of the Daniel Island technology company, Bridges went on to co-host a travel show that focuses on philanthropic efforts around the world. He plans to run a newly formed business out of the Charleston Tech Center. File/Staff

As the COVID-19 pandemic changes the landscape of business and work, some South Carolinians appear to be seizing the opportunity to get a new company off the ground.

The pandemic has been an extraordinarily difficult time to run a business. Across the country, roughly 98,000 of them marked themselves as permanently closed, Yelp's data team reported in September

But whether it's out of necessity, innovation or some other reason, the Internal Revenue Service is seeing a huge increase in South Carolina residents and corporations  applying for new business numbers.

The same trend is playing out across the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compared to the same period last year, South Carolina has seen business applications more than double. How many of those applications will turn into new employers is impossible to say.

For Daniel Island resident Earl Bridges, the pandemic has brought opportunity. The founder of Good Done Great, a fundraising software startup that was sold to YourCause, which in turn was scooped up by Blackbaud Inc. not long after, went on to host a PBS show called The Good Road.

Bridges, who grew up in Thailand, said he and his co-host are filming the second season of the international travel show that puts a spotlight on philanthropic efforts around the world. But The Good Road crew wanted to build a platform to support fundraising for the charities it promotes. 

Enter Uncommon Giving. Bridges said the platform connects to Fortune 1000 employers, which can use the technology to give their workers the option of making a tax-deductible donation to the cause of their choice.

In the short-term, Bridges plans to hire four employees and set up shop in the soon-to-open Charleston Tech Center on Morrison Drive. By the end of next year, he expects to be running a 20-person shop.

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Hard times can bring about an entrepreneurial spirit, and upticks in new businesses often follow a recession, said Joey Von Nessen, an economist at the University of South Carolina. But all of the reasons why business applications are up so dramatically are hard to pinpoint.

He pointed to two likely explanations. 

As businesses pivot during the pandemic, many could be restructuring their companies, Von Nessen said. 

The Census data includes corporate reorganizations, not just new startups. 

Von Nessen said the other likely reason lies in the fact that about 13 percent of the workforce in South Carolina lost their jobs this spring. 

"Even though we've recovered about 70 percent of those jobs losses so far, that obviously still leaves a lot of South Carolinians unemployed, and many are looking for new opportunities," he said.

Whether those applications turn into wage-paying businesses will be important to follow, Von Nessen said. Overall, somewhere around 30 percent of business number applications are likely to turn into actual employers, according to the Census Bureau. 

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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