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Kent County launches $25M relief fund for small businesses affected by COVID-19

BY Wednesday, June 17, 2020 05:34am

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce partnered to form a $25 million relief fund for small businesses.

The Kent County Small Business Recovery Program launches next week Monday, offering grants of $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 each to small businesses. Individual grant amounts will depend on the size, operating costs, and how well an applicant scores against a set of review metrics.

Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber COURTESY PHOTO

“The grant amount is going to be dependent on the unique needs of the business,” Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber, said during a recent meeting of the Kent County board’s COVID Relief Subcommittee.

The grants are intended for for-profit small businesses based in Kent County that were formed prior to Feb. 15 and have up to 25 full-time-equivalent employees. Small businesses can use the grant funding to cover pandemic-related expenses such as business interruption, personal protection equipment, needed facility modifications, wages, rent, utilities and other fixed costs.

Kent County commissioners last week approved formation of the Small Business Recovery Program using part of $114.6 million received in late April through the federal CARES Act Congress enacted in response to the pandemic. Formation of the fund was among the recommendations from the COVID Relief Subcommittee that examined how to use CARES Act funding.

In a proposal to the subcommittee earlier this month, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce noted that the COVID-19 pandemic “is devastating the fabric of our local business community.”

“Kent County is built on the backbone of entrepreneurship and small business, and the Kent County Small Business Recovery Fund is aimed at delivering short-term financial support to small businesses with the goal of supporting a strong economic recovery,” the chamber stated in its proposal.

Grants would go to help small businesses that have been unable to access assistance or have been declined for aid by federal, state or local relief funds, “or need additional support to weather this crisis,” according to the chamber’s proposal. Grant applicants must have been directly affected by or experienced a loss from the pandemic.

“We are focused on businesses that may be dealing with additional barriers including but not limited to language, financial acumen, and from underserved communities. Consistent with the limitations of the CARES Act, these businesses also must have been directly impacted and experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19,” according to the proposal.

Small businesses awarded a grant will also receive technical assistance from the Grand Rapids Chamber that includes performing a 60-day cash flow projection. Business consultants will follow up with grant recipients after 30 days to evaluate the use of the funding, and again after 60 and 90 days, according to the chamber’s proposal.

The Grand Rapids Chamber expects the fund to “serve a large number of businesses,” Johnston said at the subcommittee’s June 2 meeting. The Chamber will recommend who gets a grant after review by a selection committee “with broad representation” from across Kent County, Johnston said. The county will have the final say on awards.

To get the word out about the fund’s formation, the Grand Rapids Chamber will reach out to other chambers of commerce across Kent County, plus several community and entrepreneurial organizations such as West Michigan Hispanic Chamber, West Michigan Hispanic Center, Grand Rapids Black Chamber, Experience Grand Rapids, NAACP, Amplify GR, LINC Up, Local First, Michigan Women Forward, the Neighborhood Business Alliance, Start Garden and Grand Rapids Opportunity for Women.

“If we connect and partner with a variety of organizations and geographic areas, that will ensure the diversity results that we want — industries, geographic locations, but also even the sizes of businesses that we make sure we go after,” Dante Villarreal, vice president of business and talent development at the Grand Rapids Chamber, told the county subcommittee.

Kent County has more than 29,000 small businesses with 25 or less FTEs, he said.

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