The Immigrant’s Guide To Starting a Business in North Carolina

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In North Carolina, roughly 12% of all self-employed residents are immigrants, as reported by the American Immigration Council. And at least one in eight businesses in the Raleigh-Cary and Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord metro areas are owned by foreign-born individuals.

For anyone wondering where and how to start a business as an immigrant in North Carolina, you can learn more about this state’s numerous small business advantages, including incentives, grants, financing opportunities, support services,  and professional organizations.

Starting a Business in North Carolina

What businesses are popular for immigrants in North Carolina?

Main-street businesses are among the most popular small business ideas for immigrants in North Carolina. The term describes retail stores, drugstores, restaurants, grocers, service providers like salons and dry cleaners, and other brick-and-mortar businesses within the main shopping areas of communities.

Construction is another popular industry for immigrants in the state, with more than a third of all painters, wallpaper hangers, and carpenters identifying as foreign-born.

How to get new business incentives and financing in North Carolina

Entrepreneurs in North Carolina can find ways to fund a small business through programs available from the state, local government, financial institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Some grants, programs, incentives, and credits that small business owners may qualify for are described below.

Angel investors

North Carolina is home to a number of angel investor networks, which include organizations of wealthy individuals and organizations that invest in startups.

Some like the Carolina Angel Network and the Duke Angel Network are open to immigrants and other individuals with ties to a certain college or university. Others like the Piedmont Angel Network and Wilmington Investor Network focus on specific geographic regions.

Golden LEAF Economic Catalyst Program

Companies and nonprofit organizations serving communities in North Carolina that rely on the activities of the tobacco industry to fund the local economy can receive funding to pass along to new business ventures through the Golden LEAF Economic Catalyst Program.

Entrepreneurs that have new businesses that will employ many area residents may be able to obtain grants by partnering with recipients of program funds. In addition, anyone looking to expand their business and hire more employees in one of these areas may also find grant opportunities.

Main Street Solutions Fund

The North Carolina Department of Commerce offers business grants for immigrants who wish to open small businesses in the downtown areas of certain cities within the state. The size of the grant depends on the location and the number of jobs the business will create.

Recipients also gain access to other resources, such as business advice and technical support, through the Main Street and Rural Planning Center.

One NC Small Business Program

Administered by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the One NC Small Business Program supports startups in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math. The program awards grants to entrepreneurs who have also won grants from either the Small Business Innovation Research or the Small Business Technology Transfer federal programs.

Qualified businesses receive matching funds from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, doubling the startup capital available through grant awards.

One North Carolina Fund

Through this program, the governor can quickly award grants to projects that will create a large number of jobs in North Carolina. The amount given depends on job creation forecasts, location of the business, financial projections, and how much the business owner or owners are already investing.

Raleigh Building Up-Fit Grant

Immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners in the city of Raleigh may qualify for grants through the Building Up-Fit Grant program to update and improve the interiors of commercial buildings. The city pays for 50% of the construction costs for eligible businesses.

Workforce Grants

The North Carolina Department of Commerce provides grants for small businesses to cover the cost of advanced technical training for employees. Business owners can use the funds to pay for the development and implementation of a custom training program or an on-the-job training program.

Starting a Business in North Carolina

Carolina Small Business Development Loan

Open to individuals throughout the state, the Carolina Small Business Development Loan offers financing opportunities for startups and established small businesses in most industries. The program provides lines of credit and loans for small businesses with flexible terms totaling up to $250,000.

Self-Help Credit Union

If you’ve had trouble securing a business loan in the past, you may wish to apply for financing through the Self-Help Credit Union. The community development lender’s mission is to expand participation in the financial system. As a result, it has relaxed lending standards compared to traditional banks.

Slow Money NC

The nonprofit Slow Money NC seeks to grow sustainable food businesses throughout North Carolina. Through its peer-to-peer lending program, startups and existing business owners can obtain loans to fund sustainable restaurants, specialty food companies, and other businesses related to the organization’s mission.

Manufacturing Tax Exemptions

Business owners in the manufacturing industry may qualify for sales and use tax exemptions when purchasing machinery, equipment, and raw materials.

In addition, the program may provide tax exemptions for utilities at manufacturing facilities like electricity, natural gas, and fuel used to power operations. The tax exemptions can lower startup costs and improve cash flow for existing businesses.

How to get business licenses, certificates, and permits in North Carolina

To legally operate a business in North Carolina, entrepreneurs will need to obtain the necessary registration, licenses, certificates, and permits from the state. Requirements vary based on location and industry; however, most businesses will need at least some of the following credentials.

Business name registration

Sole-proprietors, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and corporations need to register their business names with the North Carolina Secretary of State. The necessary business forms for registration and instructions for how to complete and submit them are available on the Secretary of State’s website.

Business and professional licenses

North Carolina doesn’t issue a general business license. Instead, state laws require businesses and professionals working in certain industries to obtain specific state-issued licenses. There are more than 900 of these licensing programs in the state.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce website has a search portal where you can quickly find the requirements for various industries. Alternatively, you can contact a representative at the EDPNC Small Business Advisors by phone at (800) 228-8443 for assistance in determining what the requirements are for your specific business.

Starting a Business in North Carolina

Tax registration

Most businesses need to complete tax registration with the North Carolina Department of Revenue prior to opening their doors. To find out which tax registrations you need, you can check the department’s website.

Some taxes that require registration include:

  • Sales and use tax: Companies that sell, rent, or lease taxable personal property must register to accept sales and use tax from customers.
  • Privilege license tax: If your business requires a state-issued license to operate in North Carolina, you’ll usually need to register to pay the privilege license tax as well to conduct business in the state.
  • State and local tax: Most companies in North Carolina are required to pay income, property, and other applicable taxes. Rates and requirements vary by location. The local tax assessor can help you determine which taxes you’re responsible for paying.
  • Employment taxes: Nearly all businesses in North Carolina must register with the North Carolina Department of Revenue to pay state withholding taxes, unemployment insurance tax, and worker’s compensation tax.

Local permits and licenses

Counties and city governments may require additional permits. The cities of Charlotte and Raleigh offer online search tools that allow you to quickly find out which permits are required.

Entrepreneurs in other areas should contact the county or city government offices for more information on the business permits and licenses needed in those areas.

Starting a Business in North Carolina

Other types of business support in North Carolina

Entrepreneurs can join North Carolina professional organizations and take advantage of state government and nonprofit programs that provide various networking support for small business owners. Some of those opportunities are described below.

Business Link North Carolina

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina provides this service to encourage entrepreneurship in the state. Through the program, you can receive free one-on-one assistance in developing a business plan, applying for grants and financing, and obtaining registrations, licenses, certificates, and permits.

Chambers of commerce

Chambers of commerce are organizations made up of business owners within a particular region. The groups lobby lawmakers to protect the interest of the business community and offer programs and events like educational seminars and networking meetups.

The NC Chamber is the statewide chamber of commerce in North Carolina, and there are also regional groups across the state.

Trade associations

Trade associations are nonprofit groups that represent the interests of business owners. Some also offer educational, training, mentoring, and networking opportunities.

There are more than 1,200 of these organizations in North Carolina. They include groups related to a specific industry like the Carolinas Electrical Contractors Association as well as associations for individuals of a certain ethnic background like the North Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Project

Also known as NC LEAP, this program offers low and no-cost legal services for entrepreneurs related to business establishment, education, and patenting.

North Carolina Small Business Center Network

With locations across North Carolina, this network sponsored by the North Carolina Community College System offers business counseling, training opportunities, and other resources for small business owners.

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