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  • Resilient North Platte business community survived, thrived in pandemic

    North Platte has been a bit of an outlier when it comes to how business was affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
    In addition to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, area businesses were bolstered by a number of local efforts.
    Location and Nebraska’s approach to the pandemic also played roles in ensuring that the area wasn’t hit as hard as communities in more metropolitan areas.
    According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, metropolitan areas in April 2020 saw 21% fewer self-employed people working than in April 2019. However, outside metropolitan areas, the decline was only 13%.
    North Platte Chamber of Commerce & Development Corp. President and CEO Gary Person noted that membership had largely stayed the same.
    “We lost a few members, but we gained a few new members,” he said. “Overall, there might have been a small decrease in the community, but we were better off here in this part of the country than in a lot of parts of the United States.”
    Sarah Talbott, owner of The Flower Market and president of the North Platte Downtown Association, said she didn’t think she saw any businesses in the Canteen District close permanently due to COVID-19.
    Different in a good way
    Ty Lucas, executive vice president and chief lending officer at Nebraskaland Bank, attributed a large part of North Platte’s success just to the area’s attitude.
    “I think we’ve avoided significant economic damage because we’ve kind of kept things operating and just figured out how to do it in a safe manner,” Lucas said.
    Throughout the pandemic, Lucas “was reminded over and over again how wise and smart the business owners in this area are. We’ve had very few business closures compared to other communities.”
    The Paycheck Protection Program also helped keep area businesses from having to lay off employees.
    “It’s been a very good way of getting assistance out to businesses. Frankly, I think that program kept a lot of businesses from laying off people locally,” Lucas said.
    In fact, the program has largely helped people stay close to where they were in 2019.
    “Most businesses in general, with the assistance of PPP, have been able to hold their sales and their profitability pretty level to 2019,” Lucas said. “Some are probably down a little bit, there might be a few that are up a little bit, but across the board, most businesses were able to hang in there and stay pretty level,”
    North Platte’s real estate sector also saw success in 2020, Person said.
    “You talk to any (real estate agent) in town and they’ll tell you they’ve never seen inventory so low,” Person said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who want to get back to a grassroots community, and where they can appreciate life and don’t have to put up with the big city issues. It’s just kinda ugly out there in some of the metropolitan areas.”
    Lucas’ one regret when it came to the surge of people leaving metropolitan areas is that North Platte was lacking housing. Areas around North Platte were able to sell houses that had been on the market for a long time, he said.
    “We had kind of the perfect storm: We had people wanting to move to communities like North Platte, we had low interest rates, and we had people not traveling and doing other things and they wanted to invest in their home since they were spending more time at home,” Lucas said. “I just wish we would have done more in 2018 and 2019 to make more houses available.” 
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