Updated March 24, 2020 at 5:10 p.m.
A joint statement of the affinity chambers of commerce in Mecklenburg County was sent to Mayor Vi Lyles and Commissioner George Dunlap, chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission last Friday, calling on local officials to take action in support of small business. “’Business as usual’ has ceased to exist in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and our small businesses and non-profits are involuntarily having to navigate these issues, seemingly alone, with no true ‘boots on the ground’ support from local and state officials,” read the statement.
The statement, signed by the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, and Carolina’s Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, further points out the lack of government mandates and planning over the past 15 days and raises concern over the fact that most minority businesses within the region face additional obstacles in accessing disaster relief through the Small Business Administration (SBA). “The obstacles will create inequitable access and leave behind minority business owners who are in desperate need of operational assistance to avoid losing their business and employees while they are under reduced hours of operation or closed during mandates.”
The joint letter requests that a response be provided by close of business today on eight priorities, including protection from eviction, utility service continuation, assistance for businesses with less than 50 employees, insurance assistance, a revisit to the unemployment benefits thresholds, alternative support for sole proprietors, non-profit operational support, and clarity to address small business disparities. Requests for response from either Mayor Lyles or Commissioner Dunlap were not returned as this was being published.
Small businesses employing under 50 people make up more than 90 percent of the businesses in Mecklenburg County. “The alarm has sounded,” read the letter. “Accountability starts now and we implore you to seek out local opportunities that can assist them without establishing more obstacles that will create inequality in the process.”
This afternoon, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office announced a stay-at-home order for all county residents. Residents are directed to remain in their homes for the next 21 days as part of an attempt to reduce the number of new COVID-19 infections. Exceptions are allowed for those seeking medical treatment, buying food, or exercising outdoors — all of which are deemed “essential services or activities.” The order also extends to residents of the neighboring towns of Matthews, Pineville, Mint Hill, Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius. North Carolina has at least 412 reported cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday morning. Mecklenburg County has the highest number of cases in the state, with 106 as of this morning. The governor has yet to create a statewide shelter-in-place order but banned gatherings of more than 50 people on Monday and ordered additional businesses to close, including gyms, movie theatres, barbershops and nail and hair salons. Last week, the governor ordered restaurants and bars to close except for takeout and delivery orders.
While necessary to reduce the spread according to health experts, small businesses are definitely taking a hit. Companies employing under 50 people make up more than 90 percent of the businesses in Mecklenburg County. “The alarm has sounded,” read the joint letter from the Chambers. “Accountability starts now and we implore you to seek out local opportunities that can assist them without establishing more obstacles that will create inequality in the process.”