RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Roughly one in six small and medium-sized businesses across North Carolina responding to a survey conducted by Facebook reported being closed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tech giant’s report following surveys of 682 small businesses across the state and more than 18,000 across the country puts into context the mixed bag of difficulties and reasons for optimism many businesses face a year into the pandemic, and as they move forward in the recovery process.
“North Carolina still has a challenge ahead of it,” said Diana Doukas, a policy manager for Facebook.
Facebook defines a small and medium-sized business as one with 250 or fewer employees.
The report shows 84 percent of the responding businesses in the state were open when the survey was conducted in late January and early February, leaving 16 percent that weren’t. The good news: North Carolina’s closure rate was better than all five of its neighboring states.
But 28 percent of those operational small businesses expect challenges related to cash flow — compared to just 16 percent of those in Tennessee — and 21 percent have concerns about drops in demand or customers.
As a result, only 63 percent of business owners in North Carolina say they’re confident they’ll stay open for at least six months — five points below the national average, and seven points below the average in the South. In South Carolina, that optimism figure was 73 percent.
“When I talk about optimism right now, in North Carolina, small businesses are feeling it’s a little bit more of a challenge,” Doukas said.
The pandemic also has been harder on businesses owned by women and minorities, with those businesses reporting lower sales figures. A total of 55 percent of Black-owned businesses reported lower year-over-year sales in February, compared to 49 percent of other businesses, while 54 percent of businesses led by women had lower year-over-year sales.
“We know that the pandemic has affected everybody and every business but it hasn’t affected everyone equally,” Doukas said.
But there were some optimistic findings in the data, too.
Only 44 percent of those operational businesses reported lower sales this February compared to last year at that time — seven percentage points better than the national average. And only 17 percent of operating small businesses cut jobs because of COVID-19, 10 percentage points below the national average.
“We’re seeing some positive trends in North Carolina, specifically,” Doukas said.
But there is the question of why Facebook is getting involved in the first place.
The tech giant says it wants to help those small businesses, providing $100 million in cash grants and advertising credits over 30 countries through a program that is no longer taking applications. Facebook does continue to offer online training sessions.
“One of the reasons we started this research report was because you can’t effectively know the best way to help the small business community if you don’t know what the pain points are, or their anxieties are,” Doukas said.
“And so reports like this are just additional information so that we can react (and) hopefully, us and other entities can use this information to best either change strategy or address different pain points, knowing what the small business community is really feeling,” she said.