From restaurants to child-care services, Michigan’s small businesses are finding ways to thrive amidst the pandemic thanks, in part, to the Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund.
LANSING, Mich.—The coronavirus has been hard on small businesses. With the latest surge in infections dwarfing the worst days of the early pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “three-week pause” has been another bump in the road for Michigan businesses, albeit a necessary one, as health officials have noted.
As such, Gov. Whitmer has partnered with small business leaders across the state to find innovative solutions for problems posed by the coronavirus. One of those solutions was the state’s Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund.
Gov. Whitmer joined recipients of support from the fund Tuesday to assess its effectiveness and progress, and hailed Michigan small businesses for their resilience during the pandemic. The conversation was part of the state’s broader Support Local campaign.
Spearheaded by the state and Michigan Women Forward, the program is designed to give coronavirus recovery assistance through loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses from underrepresented groups in Michigan. The list of supported businesses includes Cadillac Tuxedo, Hooked on Books Childcare, Mindo Chocolate Makers, and the Radiant Alchemist.
The fund has supported more than 300 small businesses in recovering and restarting their business in response to the pandemic so far.
Funds were used to support small businesses in managing expenses, including rent, payroll, and inventory, due to the significant economic impacts of COVID-19. Funds also went to helping companies revamp their business to a more virtual-friendly model and adjust to changing demands created by the pandemic, such as switching to takeout and delivery from an dining-in model.
“Despite the adversity we have all faced this year, our small businesses have proven what it means to be a Michigander, by rising to the occasion and exemplifying true innovation, collaboration and Midwestern grit,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Our small businesses have not only supported their communities while keeping their employees, customers, and our brave frontline workers safe, but they have made us all proud to call Michigan our home.”
By way of the fund’s success, Whitmer’s office pointed to a restaurant in East Grand Rapids’ Gaslight Village neighborhood. Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine has been a staple in the community since 1993, but the restaurant closed when the pandemic arrived in Michigan to protect its employees and customers, presenting a series of financial challenges for both the owners and employees. As a result of its support from the fund, it was able to secure the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to reopen safely while continuing to pay its employees and serve the local community.
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“Although our restaurant has suffered a huge financial loss, we have full intentions to move forward with our business and the grant helped us to reopen earlier this year. The funds paid a portion of our rent that was past due with the remaining portion used to purchase needed supplies, including PPE, in order to safely open,” said Diane Aouad, co-owner of Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine, in the roundtable with Gov. Whitmer. “We are so happy that all our employees who have been with us for not less than four years—and some as long as 14 years—have all been able to come back to work.”
The $1.5 million fund includes support of $500,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and $1 million from Michigan Women Forward’s Small Business Association microlending funds, along with partners including Consumers Energy Foundation, DTE Energy, the New Economy Initiative, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, Fifth Third Bank, Huntington Bank, PNC Bank, and Comerica Bank. Since its launch in May, Michigan Women Forward has also engaged additional partners to add longevity to the fund, with the goal of supporting even more small businesses into 2021.
Businesses can apply through Michigan Women Forward’s website.
“It’s been a privilege to work with small businesses throughout Michigan during this COVID crisis. We’ve been able to help so many deserving businesses re-open their businesses and find ways to pivot and survive,” said Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of Michigan Women Forward. “We named the fund ‘the Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund’ since that is exactly how to best describe Michigan small businesses—resilient.”
Whitmer added that by doing what doctors and scientists urge—including wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing hands thoroughly—those businesses can more quickly return to normal operation. For now, they rely on Midwestern grit and creativity, though.
“We all must continue doing our part to help our small businesses not only survive this ongoing pandemic but thrive long after it has ended,” she said. “I urge all Michiganders to be smart and stay safe as we head into the holiday season. We beat this virus in the spring by listening to medical experts, and we can do it again.”