Caitlin Tan Published

W.Va. Sees Increase In New Businesses Registered During Pandemic

bubbles bones and biscuits

The pandemic has been a nightmare for many businesses, with likely more than 100,000 small businesses shut down permanently nationwide, according to a survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research. But West Virginia saw an uptick in new businesses registered in 2020 compared to the last three years.

It might seem counterintuitive to start a business in a worldwide pandemic that has caused economic turmoil, but that’s not necessarily the case, said Ben Eng, a professor of marketing and entrepreneurial at Marshall University.

“It forces people to be scrappy, and innovative,” Eng said. “And like, that’s ultimately what the entrepreneurial spirit is, is finding new ways to solve problems and being scrappy and innovative.”

West Virginia saw more than 13,288 new businesses registered in 2020, and in 2019 there were 13,042. That figure was lower in 2018, when 10,253 were registered.

There are several factors that may have made it simpler to get a business off the ground, said Tricia Ball, associate director for the Center of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation at Marshall University. Factors include more advanced technology, low interest rates and time.

“I think some changes in unemployment and hours, and not having as many activities or events during the evenings and the weekend really give people some time to work on things that they’ve been wanting to do,” said Eng. “And then kind of have the opportunity to evaluate and be like, “Okay, what have I been doing? You know, is that really what I want to be doing?””

This extra time actually led Melissa Boothe and Brooke McKinney to start their business ‘Bubbles, Bones and Biscuits’ last spring. They make a variety of products for dogs.

“Everything about your world changed,” said Boothe. “People were out walking their dogs, and people were, you know, looking for dogs at the shelters and adopting dogs. So it just clicked in my head. Well, if all these people have all these pets, then they’re going to need stuff for them.”

Because of COVID, they did not open a brick and mortar style shop. Rather they sell products online and at festivals and bazaars.

Boothe and McKinney’s business is classified as ‘Other Personal Services,’ and this was one of the industries that grew the most in West Virginia, with 417 new businesses last year, according to West Virginia’s Business Statistics Database.

Another industry that grew was special food services — like catering and food trucks — which saw 69 new businesses in 2020.

Crafts of Coal is an ice cream truck company based in St Albans, West Virginia that opened early last summer. TJ Douglas is one of three co-founders of the food truck business.

“We knew it was really risky. But the object here was to be a little different,” Douglas said. “And so when we came up with the concept to sell ice cream, we thought it would be best to do it out of the trailer instead of a storefront.”

This allowed people to social distance, Douglas said, adding that business was successful and they are planning to re-open in the spring.

The state also recently streamlined the process for registering a business with the ‘West Virginia One Stop Business Portal,’ which allows people to submit paperwork online, rather than in-person.

“ I think that’s helping the people that have those creative ideas and have that energy that say, “I’m ready to start fresh,”” said West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. “It makes it easy for them to get online and do that.”

However, a registered business does not necessarily mean an up-and-running business. Essentially, the name of the potential business is reserved and approved by the state. Warner said it can sometimes take awhile for the businesses to come to fruition and sometimes they never do.

For the businesses that did register and open during the worldwide pandemic last year, they will have to keep innovating in a post-COVID world, too, said Eng, the associate marketing professor at Marshall.

So far this year, 1,306 new businesses were registered in January, which is about double compared to January 2020.

“The way that people were scrappy during COVID, they should continue to be innovative and scrappy after COVID, you know,” he said. “They should never stop.”