“People might not realize how big of an industry that construction is in Western North Carolina — it’s right up there with the tourism and health care sectors,” said Patrick Schneider. “And all of us in the construction industry, we’re all in this together. We’re still out here trying to make a living. If we don’t work, we really don’t have any recourse.”
The co-owner of MGC of WNC, a Haywood County-based construction company, Schneider and his crew are in the midst of a complete restoration and renovation of a 1914 cottage on a hill overlooking the corner of McCracken and Oakdale Road.
“This is a pretty extensive project. But, this is what we specialize in, which is bringing these older structures back to life while preserving the character and charm of the building,” Schneider said.
Even with the pandemic closing most companies, MGC of WNC falls under the listing of an “essential” business by the government. With anywhere between four to eight workers on his freelance construction crew (depending on the job at hand), Schneider has felt a drop of about 40 percent in recent business due to the pandemic.
“Winter is always slow, but spring is usually when things pick up and we’re off to the races,” Schneider said. “Where normally we’d be looking at projects months out, we’re now looking at things week-to-week. For the first quarter of this calendar year, we’ve actually gone in the hole financially. But, we’re holding steady at the moment.”
While applying for the Payroll Protection Program through the Small Business Administration, Schneider has felt — and continues to feel — frustrated by the process of seeking loans and funding to keep his livelihood afloat, a shared sentiment now reverberating through much of the small business community nationwide.
“Our company processes upwards of $800,000 a year through our community bank. We’re good customers, to say the least. And that first day they opened up for PPP applications, they had somewhere around 8,000 responses, and they had to shut down,” Schneider said. “We couldn’t even apply the first time because the bank’s computer system got so overloaded. But, with this second round of government funding, we’ve now got our application in and waiting to hear back on approval for the money.”
When speaking at-length about the pandemic’s effect on the economy, Schneider can’t help but get flashbacks of the recession of 2008.
“You know, you look back at 2008 and 2009, when the bottom fell out in the housing industry. Contractors went out of business, thousands lost their jobs and went bankrupt. Hell, I went bankrupt,” Schneider said. “But, I came back and started from scratch to rebuild a company. And if we have to that again this time around, well, we will. I mean, what else are we going to do?”
But, even with financial obstacles and uncertainty seemingly around every corner, Schneider’s gratitude is running high these days — for his health and for his work.
“Most people have had their lives flipped upside down and had their sense of normalcy taken away from them. I still get to go do the work I love, and to still wake up with that sense of purpose — it makes you appreciate all of the great things in your life,” Schneider said.
Finishing up a quiet lunch from inside the old cottage, Schneider wiped his hands and got up to get back to work. With a stiff mountain breeze rolling through the open windows, Schneider buttoned up his coat and grabbed his tool belt, readying himself for another afternoon of turning the abandoned building back into a home.
“I’m 60 years old. And one thing I know — if you keep putting one front in front of the other, it always gets better. That’s just life,” Schneider said. “So, no matter what we’re facing right now, we’re going to learn how to deal with it. Businesses will be back, people will be back, and we’ll have our lives back. Life doesn’t stop because of the coronavirus — it changes, but it doesn’t stop.”