Grants for Michigan's small business owners could help them keep their doors open throughout the pandemic. Photo via Shutterstock
Grants for Michigan's small business owners could help them keep their doors open throughout the pandemic.

Local businesses have already received close to $100 million thanks to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Here’s how the funds are being used by entrepreneurs, and how you can apply.

HANCOCK, Mich.—Michigan’s vibrant small business community came to be, one entrepreneur’s dream at a time. From people deciding to be their own bosses, to those creating family legacies, each business has a unique origin story. 

And each is doing all it can to keep doors open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Right Start Up Kids Academy (RSKA) was born to meet needs in the community. The Houghton County-based early childhood education center provides child care for families of Hancock. 

“It was a high need in our community,” RSKA director Heather McGee told The ‘Gander about her 2017 dream-turned-reality. “We had a bunch of ladies in our community who all needed child care, we got together and decided to start our own. Everything just worked out—even our schedules.”

Almost four years later, she and other Michigan small business owners would have never predicted the economic downturn that 2020 would bring, but help would come from a mixed bag of federal, state, and local funding.

“We stayed open the entire time that COVID has happened,” McGee said. “Most of our parents needed us.” 

Aside from two brief closures, RSKA remained open to aid its mostly-first responder customers who need child care most. Invest UP, an upper peninsula economic organization, distributed their grant.

Because of a $5,000 grant, RSKA was able to pay employees who weren’t eligible for unemployment during the brief closure and suspend tuition payments for cash-strapped parents.

Looking ahead to the future, RSKA now hopes to start the new year with completely full classrooms—according to safety guidelines. 

Some of that will be possible because of grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), like the one McGhee and RSKA received. In total, Michigan business owners have been awarded close to $100 million.

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How Funding Started

The Michigan Small Business Restart Program was first approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund in July. It allocated $100 million of federal CARES Act funding to support Michigan’s small businesses and nonprofits that have experienced a loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are now reopening. 

As The ‘Gander previously reported, the funding was distributed amongst 15 local or nonprofit economic development organizations (EDOs) that touch all 83 Michigan counties. Eligible small businesses and nonprofits can receive up to $20,000.

“The Michigan Small Business Restart Program has provided significant support to small businesses and nonprofits helping to get them through this critical time and on the path to economic recovery,” said MEDC CEO, Mark A. Burton. “We are thankful for the efforts of our economic development partners, who worked to deliver these vital financial resources within their regions and create a path toward economic recovery for small businesses throughout Michigan.” 

Who Got Money So Far?

More than 14,000 Michigan-based small businesses across have already been awarded funds through the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant program to date. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told local reporters that families across the state “depend on small businesses for their livelihood,” making the grants that much more important in keeping Michigan’s economy going during the worst recession in generations.

Military veteran Aaron Hanson owns Ellison Brewery and Spirits in East Lansing. The local pub in the shadow of Michigan State University was awarded a $20,000 grant through the Lansing Economic Area Partnership—crucial to keeping the business open during the pandemic, according to Hanson.

“Being a veteran-owned company, Ellison Brewing was happy to be selected for the restart grant program,” Hanson said. “[It] has allowed us to continue to create a sanitized and socially distanced environment for customers to enjoy locally-made products safely.” 

Gov. Whitmer said grants like Hanson’s can help stabilize Michigan’s economy, but that’s there’s more to be done.

“By putting federal funding to work for Michigan’s small businesses and additional COVID-19 relief efforts, we have made a real impact on our families and our communities,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Of course, our work is not done. We still need the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to work across the aisle on a bipartisan recovery package that will provide support for our families, frontline workers, and small businesses.”

Dennis Bolo, also a vetertan, received just $2,500 for his business, Mastercraft Homes, based in Sterling Heights. 

“This grant helped us tremendously [even if] in a small way,” Bolo said of his grant that was distributed through Macomb County. “We [Mastercraft Homes] continue to work because we have to, but this helped carry us through in paying the ordinary bills. We are grateful for the amount received.”

Just under 30% of businesses that received grants self reported as minority-owned, and approximately 45% of them self reported as women-owned. More than 700 veterans claimed funds to help keep their businesses going too—all requirements of the fund’s distribution.

Click here for the complete list of grant recipients

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How to Apply for a Grant

Funding is still available for eligible businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The first line of economic defense will be through local distributing bodies, but additional resources and grants can be found at michiganbusiness.org/covid19

The grants can be used to help meet payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar costs of business.  

Gov. Whitmer says she will remain committed to the effort until all Michigan small businesses are able to pay expenses without worry.

“I will continue working with all of our partners, both at the federal and the state level, to get this done for our small business owners.” 

Apply directly to the Michigan Small Business Restart Program at michiganbusiness.com/restart.

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