In 2021, Thomas Mulholland experienced two events that hurt his small grocery store. First, the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the number of workers he could retain. If that wasn’t hard enough, at the end of the year, the Mulholland Grocery Store in Malvern, Iowa, caught fire. To this day it has yet to be rebuilt.
But that hasn’t stopped him from furthering his work and study as a small-business owner.
Mulholland is an alumnus of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. In early September, the company announced a $100 million investment in rural communities across the country to support job creation and economic growth. The new initiative, which first launched in North Dakota and Arkansas, is an extension of Goldman Sachs’ earlier 10,000 Small Businesses program. That iteration served more than 14,000 businesses across the country for more than a decade by providing access to education and capital.
A report from Goldman Sachs shows that 68% of rural small business owners have trouble attracting and retaining workers, compared to 45% in non-rural areas. Further, 74% noted that access to affordable childcare is a significant factor in their workforce challenges and 68% are concerned with their ability to access capital. Survey participants are all alumni of the original iteration of the program, which reached some rural business owners but did not have a unique focus on them.
“It was fantastic,” Mulholland said of his time in the program. “For me, the things that I struggled with that I didn’t do well, like delegation of duties – something that might have cut down on added hours – is something I knew that I needed, and I knew I needed to get better at.”
He also said he learned about better practices for onboarding employees and how to better understand the finances of running a business.
“It was extremely important for me,” he said of the experience last fall. “I can’t wait until I can put these things into practice.”
Now, he is focused on rebuilding the family-owned store.
“My business was extremely important to my community,” he told the Daily Yonder, adding that the night after the fire, a special council meeting was held. “Because now my city is going to be losing those tax dollars while we’re out of business. I paid over a million and a half dollars in wages in the time that I was in business. So the impact of a small business like this, for the whole community, is extremely important.”
Small businesses play a vital role in rural communities’ economy. Malvern is no different. Located in southwest Iowa – not far from Omaha, Nebraska – some people now opt to drive the distance to the bigger city.
But, Mulholland said, his community doesn’t see the sales tax money from those trips.
“As close as we are to Omaha, people have the option of going and buying their things there in another state,” he said. “That means that those tax dollars go someplace else, instead of your own [community]. Keep that type of thing in mind when you’re purchasing.”
Accessing capital is one concern for Daneese Carter with Daneese Tax and Accounting Services in Eastman, Georgia, a community of about 6,000 people about two hours from Atlanta. She said that when she seeks out a loan, there are many hoops to jump through.
She has all the documents and meets requirements, she said, but oftentimes, it feels burdensome.
Carter said she is applying for grants for minority-owned businesses.
She said participating in the Goldman Sachs program has made her more confident in her abilities. “I was able to network with people, even though they weren’t in the same industry,” she said. “We still have a lot in common. And they like the person that’s behind the business.”