Carolina Foothills FCU helps women entrepreneurs find success

April 8, 2022

Through pandemic interruptions of daily activities and the resulting threat to livelihoods, 132 Upstate women entrepreneurs—92 of them women of color—have kept their small businesses moving forward thanks to Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans secured through Spartanburg-headquartered Carolina Foothills Federal Credit Union.

Nearly half (47.8%) of the 276 PPP loans the credit union funded since program inception in April 2020 have helped women-owned businesses sustain their operations during mandated limitations. Carolina Foothills funded loans averaging $16,403 through the COVID-prompted program, helping borrowers secure as little as $310 to bridge an uncertain future.

That stands in stark contrast to the millions that borrowers like Ruth's Chris Steakhouse ($20M), the Los Angeles Lakers ($4.6M), Shake Shack ($10M), and Potbelly Sandwich Shop ($10M) would receive from the $790.9 billion issued by the SBA through May 31, 2021.

For local entrepreneur Latron McDaniel and partners Maleisha Rice and Stephanie Valentine at Hair Therapy Hair Studio, Carolina Foothills brought hope just as they and their options were nearly exhausted. They collaborated to secure loans ranging from $4,000 to 7,000 to keep the trio’s business viable through the shutdown and keep alive their aspirations as members of the Spartanburg business community. In the end, all of their loans in 2020 and 2021 were fully forgiven by the SBA, and the salon has regained 75% of its pre-pandemic capacity according to McDaniel.

“When we were approved for PPP, it was a saving grace,” McDaniel said, recalling an emotional discussion among the three about closing down the business. Without landlord concessions, they owed full rent while adhering to limited staffing and hours, and their savings were depleted. “We wanted to have a business to go back to. We started looking for all kinds of outlets—PPP, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, every option. When I got approved for the PPP loan, it was a lot of weight off my shoulders, and I was grateful.”

The COVID-19 shutdown was not the first setback for McDaniel. Fourteen months earlier, she was among the 2018-19 cohort completing the City of Spartanburg Emerge business accelerator (now known as Amplify) for aspiring African-American entrepreneurs, and through it she had developed plans to provide the Hub City a refined, cost-efficient venue known as The Palladium Event Center. She shelved those plans when the search for available commercial space proved restrictive and frustrating.

However, McDaniel and her partners were not alone in searching for answers as COVID-19 relief efforts rolled out in late March 2020. When inundated with calls from small businesses excluded by other institutions, Carolina Foothills first provided a link from its website to a PPP application portal. Then staff discovered that most member applicants—many of them minority- and women-owned—were not receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans as their relatively low loan amounts and lack of relationships with well-known banks were non-starters in the strained short-term process.

“It was evident that entrepreneurs like Ms. McDaniel stood to miss out, so we were determined to answer their needs,” notes Carolina Foothills VP of Engagement Terri Hendrix. “We felt strongly that if we were not able to act quickly and get loans funded in a timely manner, that would be worse than not doing the loans at all.”

An additional $320 billion in PPP funds was announced April 24, 2020, with earmarks for small lenders and hourly volume limits on large banks, spurring Hendrix and others at Carolina Foothills to work through that weekend to navigate regulatory and technical details, secure SBA permissions and access, and set up their own application portal.

The credit union originally planned to lend up to $500,000 total for as many as 20 small businesses during the second round of PPP in late April 2020. In the first week it secured approval of more than 34 loans, working with many applicants on compliance with format requirements. Applications continued to arrive, and Carolina Foothills pushed its funding goal to $1 million, then to $1.5 million. Deployed funds would ultimately reach the credit union’s $2 million cap.

“As it turned out, our members were amazed and very pleased that we turned their loans around as fast as we did, especially since word had spread of lengthy turnaround by other SBA lenders. Those members told friends, and we also had word-of-mouth recommendations from community partners like City of Spartanburg and Greenville Human Relations,” Hendrix notes.

McDaniel is one of those vocal members, having received personal calls and emails from Micro Business Lending Officer Scott Whelchel, Branch Manager Natasha Perlotte, and others sharing encouragement and word of additional support when it became available in 2021.

“I’m grateful there were people who walked us through the process and were very patient with us. Had we not gotten the money, we probably would’ve closed down our salon,” McDaniel reflects. “It means so much to me to show my daughter persistence when we felt nobody else was there for us, and it meant a lot for Carolina Foothills to have thought about small businesses that needed help. We needed money and they didn’t turn their backs.”