Small business owners are some of the strongest, most resilient people you will ever meet. They know what it’s like to take risks, work hard, make tough decisions and turn a profit to benefit their community.

The last few months have been arduous for North Dakota’s rural small business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet once again, we’ve seen that in times of crisis, small businesses step up to provide for their employees and serve their hometowns.

At the Small Business Administration, we have made it our frontline mission to support small businesses in North Dakota as they work to find new and unique ways to serve their communities. This mission was especially aided by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – a lifeline that kept people on payroll, kept businesses in businesses, and reduced the negative impact of public health closures on local economies. Since this program was launched, over $525 billion in emergency relief funding was awarded to 5.2 million small businesses, non-profits, agriculture producers, and operations in nearly every sector. More than 15 percent of the program’s total funds went to businesses in rural communities, too, saving countless jobs and channeling millions of dollars into main streets and hometown economies.

Over the last few months, we, along with our colleagues, have talked with countless small businessowners who told us that the PPP was just the lifeline they needed to survive. We’ve been beyond impressed at how these businesses have not only used the proceeds to pay their employees, but have creatively served their communities amidst this trying time.

Take Dakota Micro, Inc., for example. Charissa Rubey and her husband, Dave, develop and manufacture ruggedized camera systems and surveillance equipment for agricultural, public works, and military applications. They export their products around the world from a manufacturing facility on their family farm near Cayuga. When their business began to feel the impact of COVID-19, Charissa found a lifeline in the PPP, which she called a “rather unexpected but greatly appreciated resource.” Working with their local bank, Dakota Micro Inc. was able to keep their people on payroll and maintain their rural operation.

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North Dakota retailers have also felt the effects of the pandemic. Troy Derheim and his team at My Aquatic Services have provided swimming pool sales and specialty aquatic therapy products to people in the West Fargo area for more than 25 years. When COVID-19 halted business-as-usual, Derheim’s top priority was caring for his staff and keeping people on payroll – a priority made possible through a PPP loan.

“The SBA PPP loan was a lifesaver,” he said. “I was extremely worried about losing our culture and not being able to take care of my employee’s families. This came in the nick of time and allowed us to retain our staff.” Derheim and his team used the time of reduced operations to enhance their systems, organize their facility, and find ways to best serve their community.

There’s no doubt that times are still tough. Uncertainty continues to pose a significant challenge to small businesses everywhere. Together, though, we’ll continue using every available resource to help business and entrepreneurs pursue their American Dream. To learn more about SBA programs for rural small businesses, visit sba.gov/rural.

Dan Nordberg, of Denver, serves as the Small Business Administration’s director of rural affairs. Alan Haut, of Fargo, is the SBA district director for North Dakota.