Published in Small Business

GR Chamber receives 865 applications for small business relief fund

BY Thursday, July 02, 2020 03:30pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce expects to receive up to 1,000 applications by the end of the week from across Kent County from small businesses seeking assistance from a $25 million grant fund set up to ease the economic crush of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through midweek, the Chamber had received 865 applications to the Kent County Small Business Recovery Program, created with funding from the federal CARES Act to offer grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to small businesses with up to 25 full-time equivalent employees.

Dante Villarreal, vice president of business and talent development at the Grand Rapids Chamber COURTESY PHOTO

The application volume meets what the Chamber expected and came from “all across all industries” and “all sizes of businesses,” said Dante Villarreal, vice president of business and talent development at the Grand Rapids Chamber.

“The need is great. We’ve been hearing it (and) we’ve been seeing it,” Villarreal said. “We can see in all applications it’s the same struggle. ‘I have no revenue coming in. I have partial revenue coming in. And I have my expenses still there.’ That’s a huge hit to any business model.”

Review committees will begin evaluating the first wave of applications next week and forward recommendations for grant awards to Kent County. Final decisions on grants and the disbursement of funds could start the week after, Villarreal said.

The Kent County Small Business Recovery Program opened last week and the Chamber will continue to accept applications “until all funds have been exhausted,” Villarreal said. He expects the fund will eventually award 2,500 to 3,000 grants.

“We’re hoping to fund close to 100 percent” of the grant applications, Villarreal said.

Of the applications submitted as of Wednesday that are complete and ready for review, more than 27 percent were from minority-owned small businesses and nearly 23 percent are owned by women.

The Chamber will continue to reach out to more than 30,000 small businesses throughout Kent County that meet eligibility criteria to ensure they are aware of the grant fund.

“We do not want any business to not know about this opportunity,” Villarreal said. “We’re going to continue to push hard.”

Creation of the Kent County Small Business Recovery Program spurred some criticism from organizations including The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, Start Garden and others, as MiBiz previously reported. The groups believe the $750,000 that Kent County is paying the Grand Rapids Chamber to administer the grant program should get funneled down to groups that have been asked to help create public awareness of the initiative and provide volunteers for grant review committees.

The Kent County Small Business Recovery Program was the second relief fund the Grand Rapids Chamber has administered.

The prior $1.5 million Rapid Response Economic Relief fund through the Greater Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation wound down last week with final disbursement of funds. The fund awarded grants of $5,000 or $10,000 to 183 small businesses that collectively employ more than 1,900 people.

Both of the funds are among several efforts in communities across the state intended to offer grants or loans to small businesses hurt by the pandemic and the resulting economic effects.

One of the latest is in Newaygo County, where the Fremont Area Community Foundation this week through a partnership with MSU Federal Credit Union launched a $3.5 million recovery loan program to support small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small businesses and nonprofit organizations can apply for low-interest loans of $5,000 to $50,000 that are payable for up to five years. Borrowers would not have to start interest and principal payment for up to 90 days.

“We know that many local businesses applied for federal aid in the past several months. While most received a small amount of recovery funding, many were denied or not even allowed to apply,” Foundation President and CEO Carla Roberts said. “The Community Foundation wants to preserve the existing businesses in our community and give them the tools to not only survive but to thrive as our state slowly reopens and businesses once again generate income.”

Congress also has voted to extend the deadline for the U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program by five weeks. The PPP still had about $130 billion to lend when the application deadline expired June 30.

In Michigan as of last week, 119,516 small businesses had received PPP loans for $15.91 billion, according to the SBA.

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