The aid couldn’t come at a better time for businesses, like one Detroit florist left out of the first round of federal protections.
DETROIT, MI — The flower business has been a staple of Detroiter Kim Smith’s family for more than 60 years now.
Her business has been curtailed by the pandemic, and to keep up, she’s looking toward a batch of local small business loans that would make up for failed federal funding that went to large corporations instead.
Kim Smith has owned Basic Wholesale Floral Distributors on Meyers Road in Detroit since 2015. The original Smith Flowers was opened in 1956 by her father, and its Warren Avenue location is still open today.
Business at both the wholesale and retail locations has been slow, she said.
“It’s just [more] different than it’s ever been,” she said of the short supply and skyrocketing prices in her industry. “With what’s going on [the coronavirus pandemic] in all the foreign countries, the flower market has dried up in places like Columbia and Holland.”
She’s now applying for some of Wayne County’s $50 million in grant funding. The Wayne County Back to Work: Small Business Readiness Grant will provide grants of up to $10,000 for eligible applicants, with a goal of assisting at least 5,000 local businesses.
The money stems from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and is designed to be the assistance small businesses need after the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was rerouted to big businesses.
“This grant program is going to be so important for those small businesses who just need that extra money that they can put in for either rent, for utilities, for paying their staff,” Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell told reporters on a call Thursday. “Whatever they need to make sure that their business stays afloat.”
Local Correction for Federal Failure
The first two rounds of the federal PPP were designed to assist small businesses that were financially impacted by coronavirus closures and changes to what were once business norms. The program has been heavily criticized for failing to help the country’s smallest and most vulnerable businesses, while offering bailouts to bigger businesses.
Congress approved $350 billion in aid to small businesses, but there seem to be more stories of entrepreneurs left out of the funding than those who were helped. An estimated 66,790 Michigan businesses received almost $6 billion in the second round of federal small business loans that ran from April to May, the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) reported.
But the administration also reports 873,722 small businesses were in operation in Michigan in 2019, leaving nearly 90% of businesses without emergency funding.
The Trump Administration has resisted oversight of the PPP. Even when Trump authorized some transparency, the only recipients of PPP funds named will be those who received more than $150,000. Exact amounts received won’t be disclosed.
And while major corporations like Axios, Shake Shack, and Potbelly’s returned the funds they received from the PPP, the Trump Administration didn’t pursue the companies that didn’t, according to watchdog group Accountable.US.
That left major corporations more supported by the Small Business Administration than those businesses like Smith’s.
Smith says that the much-needed funding from the county should actually go to the small businesses like hers, not just chains with small locations.
The Wayne County grant program is “good news to hear if we’re able to get the funding,” she told The ‘Gander. “A lot of local florists haven’t received [federal] funding in previous rounds because of the larger corporations taking it all. I could name so many businesses that applied for grants and didn’t get anything, not even a response sometimes. And those who did got a ‘no.’”
Smith says the red tape and stories of a difficult and confusing application process stopped her from applying for either round of the PPP. Her son, who is also a small business owner, was denied in Washington, D.C., causing her to question the fairness of the process.
Smith, who says she is one of few (if not the only) Black floral wholesalers in the country, says she plans to apply for the county grant to keep her businesses alive. At its height, Smith Flowers had four retail locations and a local greenhouse.
“This stimulus could be the difference between staying open or closing doors permanently,” she said. “And not just florists, but all local small businesses.”
Who Is Eligible for Wayne County’s Grants?
The application window opens June 29 and closes July 10. Wayne County business must meet the following criteria to be eligible:
- Employ less than 50 full-time employees
- In existence for over one year with proof via tax documentation
- Located in a brick-and-mortar commercial building and unable to accommodate workers from home
- In good standing with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA)
- Total annual revenue does not exceed $1 million
Neighboring Oakland and Macomb Counties previously announced similar funding opportunities totaling $32 million and $20 million respectively, according to Crain’s Detroit.
Wayne County will conduct webinars to assist and support applicants with the process. Details on the informational sessions and the application are available here.