Despite pandemic, Rhode Islanders started a record number of businesses in 2020


RHODE ISLAND – As vaccines begin a rollout, many economists are hopeful that this spells the beginning of a bounce back for local communities.

That said, even in the midst of the worst stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhode Island saw a record high in new businesses open over the past year. Leading the charge, the state saw over 10,000 new business registrations by December 2020.

Though unprecedented, this rise in new entrepreneurs can be attributed to a response to the unemployment rates in the United States, which forced many to look for alternative incomes. Employment levels in Rhode Island fluctuated throughout the last year, though progress varied per sector and town. For instance, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training’s employment bulletin revealed that Burrillville and North Smithfield saw a lower unemployment rate compared to 2019, while Little Compton and West Greenwich saw a distinct increase even before the pandemic became more pervasive in the area.

Though it remains to be seen how many of these new businesses will be able to stay up and running by the end of 2021, the local government has been extremely supportive of these entrepreneurial efforts.

Building Businesses Through Community

Towns in northern Rhode Island were eligible for Community Development Block Grants, which awarded $5,000 to qualified small businesses. Helmed by the Rhode Island Office of Housing Community Development in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this helped several microenterprises stay afloat despite the hardships of the global health crisis. Businesses with up to five employees have been able to make use of this fund.

This particular grant also helped businesses that were documenting losses of $1,000 and above for 2020. It’s been one of many state efforts to support local businesses, on top of existing benefits that continue to be granted beyond the scope of the pandemic. Entrepreneurs starting Rhode Island LLCs have long enjoyed state support in the form of innovative incentive programs, designed to provide assistance to the wide array of small businesses across The Ocean State. This includes the Innovation Network Matching Grants and the Small Business Loan Fund Program. The former provides organizations with technical assistance and CARES Act-related funding to help expansion efforts, while the latter provides financing for small and mid-sized businesses that need flexible repayment terms.

This goes hand-in-hand with the community’s efforts to help each individual prosper. Local businesses stepped up in the worst days of the coronavirus situation to help affected families and students. National Grid suspended their service disconnection and collections for a time, while restaurants like North Smithfield’s Coffee & Cream, and Goodstuff Smokehouse in nearby Blackstone, Mass., provided free food for students in their respective areas. Many other local businesses throughout the state did the same and banded together to get everyone through the pandemic.

All this just goes to show how the unity that Rhode Islanders displayed has seemingly translated to an unexpected surge in business activity. That said, economist Edinaldo Tebaldi shared how the economic downturn and increased income divide would likely take years for Rhode Island to recover from. Despite these uncertain odds, the 10,124-strong newly registered companies in the state are currently active and very much represent an impressive feat during one of the most troublesome financial crises in history.

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