Leaders in West Michigan’s Asian-American business community seek $6 million to provide a variety of programs and services to underserved communities, including minority- and women-owned businesses in the region.
The West Michigan chapter of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (APACC) submitted a proposal for a share of Kent County’s $127.6 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation. If selected, the funding would help minority-owned businesses access technology and business consultants and services — key hurdles that minority-owned businesses have experienced during the pandemic.
The funding proposal comes after leaders at the nonprofit Asian Community Outreach and the West Michigan Asian American Association worked with city of Grand Rapids and Kent County officials to distribute COVID-19 relief funding early in the pandemic.
APACC Executive Director Duc Nguyen Abrahamson said the proposal was based on that previous work.
“APACC’s proposal aims to help these businesses implement technology in their operations in a post-COVID business climate where the delivery of goods and services has become digital and technology dependent,” Abrahamson told MiBiz.
According to Abrahamson, that relief work earlier in the pandemic helped business advocates determine companies’ needs.
“We obtained information such as businesses’ financials, statements of impact due to COVID closures, and business responses to COVID challenges. Through this work, team members were also able to identify patterns and common challenges for businesses owned by certain groups and those in certain industries,” Abrahamson said.
Under the proposed program, business consultants would specifically work with qualified individuals and businesses to determine their capital needs and provide financial assistance for startups or expanding businesses. The funding would also help business owners determine and implement new technology in their operations, and assist them in securing professional services for their legal, accounting, or other business needs.
The funding request also calls for creating a “technology center” in a designated Smart Zone in the city of Grand Rapids “to provide business owners with access to technology services for their business operations, such as 3D printing,” the proposal says.
Long term, business advocates say the programming would “help grow new international small businesses in Kent County, increase opportunities to bring new international investments to support small businesses in Kent County, and recruit international talent to Kent County.”
Abrahamson said the pandemic particularly affected minority-owned businesses and highlighted inequities involving technology access and a lack of access to business tools and consultants.
APACC seeks to identify small businesses that were “disproportionately impacted” as defined by the U.S. Treasury, such as those operating in Qualified Census Tracts, to deliver technical help and funding for small company startups or expansions.
Abrahamson also said the potential funding would not be limited to only Asian-American Pacific Islander-owned businesses. APACC intends to target all minority-owned businesses in Kent County with its plan. The grant funds will enable APACC to reach out to more underrepresented minority-owned businesses in Kent County, have a stronger influence on them and have transformative effects on Kent County's economic growth.
“We will continue to work with, find resources for and provide services to the (Asian-American Pacific Islander) business community,” Abrahamson said.
APACC’s proposal was among 319 funding requests submitted to Kent County in recent months for a share of $127.6 million in ARPA funding. The $2 billion in funding requests far exceeded the county’s allocation.
County officials will now consider several criteria for selecting projects. The county Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a work session on Friday to begin prioritizing projects. The board is scheduled to vote next month on recommended funding packages.