One year into COVID-19, LCD Group’s assistance programs still providing small business lifelines

One year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses, decreased – and, in some cases, eliminated – consumer demand, Lewis & Clark Development Group went into action to assist small businesses throughout the region and across North Dakota.

“From the very beginning, we knew this was going to be serious and that we had to do whatever we could to help small businesses get through the crisis,” says Brent Ekstrom, LCD Group executive director.
“You always look at something like a pandemic as a worst-case scenario. You think about it, talk about it and, in some cases, you even plan for it. Once it hits, the plans on paper give way to the realities on the ground and you have to act and we did.”

LCD Group was uniquely prepared to address the economic fallout because it is the federally designated Economic Development District (EDD) for Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan, and Sioux counties. In this role, LCD Group was tasked to coordinate an economic response.
CARES Act Revolving Loan Fund provided more than $280,000 in support to regional businesses

Most importantly for small businesses in the ten-county region, LCD Group received a $1,133,000 investment award through the U.S. Economic Development Agency (EDA) to capitalize a CARES Act Revolving Loan Fund (CRLF) for adversely impacted businesses.
“What small businesses found early on in the pandemic is a lot of the typical lending criteria could not be met with traditional lending practices. The Revolving Loan Fund allowed us to alleviate the challenges owners were facing,” notes LCD Group Commercial Lending Director Matt Burthold.
Small business owner Michelle Kaufman seconds Burthold’s assessment of the CRLF.
Kaufman is owner of ‘The Paddle Trap’ bar and restaurant along the Missouri River in Mandan. Hospitality was the hardest hit industry. Kaufman’s challenge was only compounded because her business had just opened as the pandemic was starting.

Kaufman used a CRLF loan to cover The Paddle Trap’s rent, payroll, utilities, and overhead expenses. While business is now starting to pick up, Kaufman credits the CRLF with helping her small business get through a very rough patch.

“We might not still be here without it,” says Kaufman.

Other business owners feel the same way.

So far, the CRLF has funded over $281,000 of loans to three businesses along with committing $118,000 to four additional businesses throughout the region.
“The program is working as it is intended,” observes Burthold.  

The same can also be said for the North Dakota Opportunity Fund Disaster Loan Assistance Program.
NDOF Disaster Loan Assistance Program meeting working capital needs throughout North Dakota

In the pandemic’s earliest days, the NDOF Steering Committee met in an emergency meeting on March 27, 2020 and directed $2 million of accessible NDOF funds be made available to small businesses in the Fund’s 38-community consortium. LCD Group has long managed the fund on behalf of the state of North Dakota.
“The North Dakota Opportunity Fund Disaster Loan Assistance Program has offered lifelines to businesses throughout the state because it covers the most pressing need for many owners, which is working capital,” says Ekstrom.

Looking back on the last 12 months, the assistance program has awarded more than $250,000 to seven businesses in Bismarck, Fargo, Dickinson, Watford City, and Linton.
Burthold reports two of the businesses have already paid their loans in full. Another business has substantially paid down the loan with the remaining businesses in the process of paying down or extending their loans under the terms of their loan agreements.

“We are working with these businesses to get over the hump,” says Burthold. “It’s been easier for some businesses than for others. We expected that. All that matters to us is that the assistance is helping businesses keep the lights on.”

While life is slowly returning back to normal, both Ekstrom and Burthold admit things remain uncertain. 

“It all depends on what course the pandemic takes,” Ekstrom notes. “Right now, many businesses are either in a holding pattern or slowly recovering.”

Burthold urges small businesses to explore options. “These programs are here to help. The economic effects of COVID-19 are still being felt and will be for awhile. Contact us so we can see how we can help you.”

Information on COVID-19 business assistance programs may be found online. Interested business owners can contact Burthold at (701) 667-7601 or at  

With one year of COVID-19 behind us, Ekstrom is hopeful looking ahead.

“Matt and I are confident, like everyone else, that the pent-up consumer demand is going to explode and the economy is going to take off. Like the business owners we’ve helped over the last year, we all hope it happens as soon as possible.”

Photo Credits: KFYR-TV (Brent Ekstrom); Michelle Kaufman, The Paddle Trap