GRAND RAPIDS — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was in Grand Rapids Monday touting the Whitmer administration’s Economic Jumpstart Plan for small businesses as billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funding comes into Michigan.
State officials are expecting the state to see $2 billion in remaining CARES Act funding, nearly $6.5 billion in flexible funding through the American Rescue Plan, $176 million in federal State Small Business Credit Initiative funds, and $1.4 billion in federal child care funding.
“This is unprecedented. I can’t state that enough,” Gilchrist told small business owners Monday at the Downtown Market. “We’ve never had an opportunity like this before. It creates an opportunity to invest in people in a way we never have before.”
Small business owners, economic development agencies and business advocates from across the region attended the small business summit Monday in Grand Rapids.
“With the influx of federal dollars coming to our state, this is an opportunity to create unprecedented access to capital for micro-enterprises and disadvantaged small businesses,” Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses CEO Jamiel Robinson said in a statement. “From reports and studies, we know minority-owned businesses received very little relief grants and PPP loans. This is an opportunity to further support the recovery of businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. It’s also an opportunity to make transformational investments in businesses that make our neighborhoods vibrant and great.”
GRNoir Wine & Jazz Co-owner Nadia Brigham is excited for the small business funding opportunities, but called on leaders to make the funding application process more simple and to ensure funds are equitably distributed.
“Don’t do all the analysis after you deliver the dollars and then say ... we missed the microbusinesses, or we missed the women-owned businesses, or we missed the Black-owned businesses. Do that on the front end,” Brigham said. “Be intentional with your strategies to ensure a slice of the resources absolutely goes to those businesses that are smaller and situated further away from the opportunity than others.”
Gilchrist noted that the state has carried out 23 economic relief programs for business recovery throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has supported 25,000 companies and helped retain more than 200,000 jobs.
However, he acknowledged gaps in servicing “key segments” of the business community that have struggled to access state and federal relief funding.
“None of us have ever lived or led through something like we experienced in the last year and a half,” Gilchrist said. “So therefore, we need to approach the solutions we’re delivering in a different way.”
Future state programs will focus on delivering funds to microbusinesses, which are defined as having between one to 10 employees and make up 63 percent of the businesses in Grand Rapids. A large portion of microbusinesses are also owned by people of color, Gilchrist said.
In a recent survey conducted by Detroit-based nonprofit New Economy Initiative, 86 percent of microbusinesses reported being negatively affected by the pandemic, and 77 percent stated capital was their most significant need.
“Through conversations like today, we’re going to help answer the multi-billion dollar question facing us now, as we determine how to put these federal dollars to use in support of all small businesses in Michigan and Grand Rapids,” Gilchrist said Monday.