Omaha business owners hopeful for state assistance

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 9:09 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s a scramble for small business owners across the country as the flow of federal funds to help keep employees on payroll nears an end.

In Nebraska, many are banking on the state coming through to help stay afloat.

In Dundee, Leigh Neary is the owner of Exist Green. She opened the doors to her business Tuesday to customers for the first time in months.

“Since March we’ve been greeting people at the door with our masks,” Neary said, who has been checking her email constantly in hopes of hearing good news about receiving a state grant.

The plan was to stick with curbside pickup but it’s not enough. Neary says her zero-waste market needs people coming in and spending money.

Neary has been relying on the Paycheck Protection Program to keep her employees paid and keep the business running.

“I’ve been working a lot more hours myself, so the PPP has helped me keep my manager full time. I have brought a couple of people back part-time as well,” she said.

The program ends in a few days. Tuesday was the last day small business owners could apply. Now Neary is looking for the state to answer the call.

“It’s obviously a big deal but I won’t ever say I’m on the brink of failure without it, because I’m not ready for that yet,” she said.

She’s optimistic and believes she is a prime candidate for what the state calls a “stabilization grant.”

It would inject at least $12,000 into her business.

“I mentioned that I’d use it for payroll after the PPP ran out and then also to help revamp the website,” Neary said.

The employees here are aware they’ve been lucky to hold a job and hope their luck doesn’t run out.

“I know a lot of people my age, in their mid-20s who if they’re in the service industry -- they lost their jobs or they got let go because they were the last person to be hired,” said Exist Green manager Mary Range.

State grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis. Neary said if the grant doesn’t come through she’ll be facing a lot more debt.

“I would take out another loan, but obviously as a new business I haven’t paid back, or even begun back paying my beginning loans, so that’s a little terrifying, how much do I want to sink into the business,” she explained.

Barely a year old and her business is up against a pandemic but Neary says she’s not giving up.

“It’s been a passion of mine for 15 years to do something like this, so I’ll personally do whatever it takes not to sit in a cube again all day,” she said with a laugh.

Neary is keeping her spirits up as she waits for some news. The state says businesses will be notified about the grants by Aug. 1.

Nearly 4.8 million forgivable loans have been handed out to ailing small businesses since the program launched in early April.

It’s funded through the federal CARES Act.

Nebraska’s small business grant program is also being funded through CARES Act dollars allocated to the state.

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