The top official of the U.S. Small Business Administration said employers still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic are in need of more financial help from the government during a visit Thursday with several Lowcountry firms that tapped into the first round of emergency funding.
Jovita Carranza did not give specifics on what she expects further aid would look like but said that there "will be another wave of funding for small businesses."
Many business owners across the country have told Carranza that they "have already utilized" the money offered through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the Existing Economic Injury Disaster Loan initiative, she added.
In that way, she said, "South Carolina is no different than the other states I've been visiting."
Carranza's tour of three veteran-owned local businesses included a stop at Hannah Solar Government Services, a Summerville firm that designs and builds solar technology for business clients and the federal government, and at CRAFT Flight Training, which has locations in Summerville and North Charleston.
At around noon Thursday, she arrived at Coastal Coffee Roasters in Summerville, a coffee and sandwich shop that roasts its own beans.
Carranza commented on the activity in the shop. About a half-dozen people were spaced out at tables indoors, and other customers walked in and out with to-go orders or bags of coffee beans.
Owner Brad Mallett showed Carranza the merchandise area at the front of his store, which he said has been a help to the local sellers who stock items such as candles and handmade mugs. With local farmer's markets shut down for months, his shelves have been one of the few places where some of them have been able to sell their products, he said.
Mallett also pointed out a system for marking tables that he credited his daughter for creating. Spots that have been wiped down have a green paper that says "sanitized" facing up. Guests are asked to flip the sign to the red "stop" side when they leave to indicate it needs to be cleaned.
As long as the company can maintain and eventually improve its current level of business, Mallett said it will be OK and will not be looking for more aid from the PPP or a similar government aid program.
"We're floating," he said of the middling state of business.
In South Carolina, about $5.79 billion has been distributed in about 67,200 PPP loans for an average of about $86,200 each, a little lower than the national average of $101,000. A Post and Courier review of SBA data in July tallied just over 250 Lowcountry restaurants that had applied for a total of about $17 million in aid through the PPP.
Coastal Coffee utilized both PPP and the Existing Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs, and Mallett said the company hasn't let any employees go during the pandemic.
But that hasn't been the case for some PPP recipients.
It's unclear how many businesses that took PPP money have furloughed staffers or eliminated jobs since using the funds, but data collected over the summer indicate it hasn't been uncommon.
A survey in late July from the National Federation of Independent Business found that about one-fifth of small business owners laid workers off or anticipated having to make layoffs after using PPP funds.
The South Carolina Aquarium, for one, has had to cut its workforce by a quarter and is looking to donors for aid.
A recent statewide survey of nonprofits compiled by the College of Charleston's Riley Center found that about 40 percent of respondents had gotten funding from the PPP, making it the relief funding option cited the most by those surveyed.
Still, the majority of nonprofits that answered are hurting: About two-thirds of them said they will run out of money before the end of the year.
Carranza said she's learned in her in-person visits with PPP recipients is that the SBA "needed to do a better job of the outreach to the faith-based" groups that need aid, which she described as a "focus" of hers, along with small businesses in rural communities.
The next phase for the PPP has just begun, with banks now in the early stages of accepting forgiveness applications for the loans they helped borrowers obtain.
The Lowcountry visit wasn't the first official trip to South Carolina for Carranza, a Chicago native who was nominated as SBA administrator by President Donald Trump and sworn into office in January. She was in the Palmetto State earlier this month for ribbon cuttings at two new Women's Business Centers.
One opened at Benedict College in Columbia — the second SBA-affiliated women's center located at a historically Black college or university — and another launched at CommunityWorks in Greenville.