Four nonprofit organizations serving small businesses in the Arkansas Delta have been selected to help their clients develop pandemic-recovery plans.
The new effort from the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, called Recovery Navigators, is focused on delivering financial and technical resources to businesses in rural areas owned by members of minority groups.
Delta Circles, one of the nonprofit organizations selected, works with about 30 small businesses and entrepreneurs, all in Phillips County. Delta Circles chief executive Patricia Ashanti said Friday that she was not yet sure how many of those operators would participate in the navigators' effort.
"This primarily will help our small businesses with the technical assistance they need to improve operations in areas like website design," Ashanti said. "This is just now starting so we're focused at first on introducing our clients to all the services available through the small-business center. But there is a great need in our community and this effort should help."
Other organizations selected for the effort are Delta Community Development and Law Center Inc. of Little Rock; East Arkansas Enterprise Community Inc. of Forrest City; and Phoenix Youth and Family Services Inc. of Crossett. Each organization will receive $20,000 through the program.
"These four organizations provide critical support to communities and small businesses in the Arkansas Delta," Laura Fine, state director of the technology development center, said in a news release. "We are delighted to partner with these entities and their leaders to support entrepreneurs of color and all small businesses in the region."
The four nonprofit organizations will consult directly with small businesses and connect them to the center's resources, said Michael Singleton, associate state director at the Small Business and Technology Development Center.
"The pandemic has forced us all to change how we do things," Singleton said Friday. "The magnitude of the needs of small businesses has just intensified over the past 12 to 14 months."
The center provides technical and mentoring support to small businesses across the state. It has 11 sites, all linked to a higher-education partner, to provide help in areas that include website development, market research, human resources support and access to capital.
"The need is so great out there we wanted to find trusted partners in the Delta to make sure that resources are being used so that we're responsive and not duplicative," Singleton said.
Though it has operations across Arkansas, the technology development center does not have strong connections in the Delta, Singleton said. The navigators program was built to reach those communities.
"We don't have the local relationships that some of the navigators do because we're not working there every day," Singleton said. "They are in those communities and have local knowledge and trust that we don't have."
At the same time, minority businesses in rural areas like the Delta have trouble accessing capital and don't always know how to find funding that might be readily available.
"We have that expertise and those relationships that can help those business," Singleton said. "Our role is to make sure small businesses in those communities have access to all the programs available to them."
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides funding for the technology development center that is matched by higher-education partners in Arkansas. Funding for the state agency was increased by $1.6 million during the pandemic through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. That has boosted the Arkansas organization's budget to more than $4 million annually.