Region nets over $12.3M in Restart grants

The Right Place, Lakeshore Advantage selected over 1,400 businesses to receive emergency funding.
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Jerica Buchanan, founder of The Vegan Cheesecake Company, used Restart funds to pay off debt and restructure the company’s website for e-commerce. Courtesy of Vegan Cheesecake Company

West Michigan small businesses are benefiting from a statewide, $100 million grant program to the tune of over $12.3 million, thanks to the efforts of a pair of regional economic development organizations.

The Right Place in Grand Rapids and Lakeshore Advantage in Zeeland recently announced they awarded a combined 1,488 grants to eligible West Michigan small businesses that were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant Program, totaling over $12.3 million.

The Michigan Strategic Fund, through the federal CARES Act and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), made available a total of $100 million in grant funds to eligible small businesses and nonprofits in Michigan through the Small Business Restart program.

The Small Business Restart grants were designed to provide eligible small businesses with working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business. In order to qualify, businesses and nonprofits had to have less than 50 employees and be able to demonstrate need. Additionally, 30% of the funding was required to be awarded to women-, veteran- or minority-owned businesses.

The Right Place dollars

The Right Place and its regional partners, in collaboration with the MEDC, awarded over $9 million in grant funding to 1,060 small businesses in 11 of the 13 counties of West Michigan’s Prosperity Region 4: Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties.

Birgit Klohs Courtesy of The Right Place

“These funds are offering a financial lifeline to our small companies, and we are pleased that over half of these grants were awarded to women-, minority- and veteran-owed small businesses,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO, The Right Place.

Demand for funding far exceeded available funds, with 2,995 applicants requesting over $50 million in support throughout the region. A county-specific breakdown of funding requested and awarded is available at bit.ly/RPgrantsbycounty.

In Kent County, 73% of the funding was awarded to women-, veteran- and minority-owned businesses. Throughout the 11-county region, 66% of the funding was awarded to women-, veteran- or minority-owned businesses.

Each county assembled a local county review committee for restart applications. The size of the committees varied and were composed of public and private economic development partners. Collaborative partners included local economic development organizations, municipalities, counties, downtown development authorities, chambers of commerce, minority associations and chambers, local banks and finance professionals, community foundations and others. The Kent County review committee was co-chaired by Guillermo Cisneros of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Jamiel Robinson of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

Applications from affected businesses were accepted, reviewed and approved by these local county review committees. A list of scoring criteria can be found at bit.ly/RPknowthescore. Funds are being distributed by The Right Place directly to the applicant companies. More information on the program can be found on The Right Place’s website at bit.ly/RPsmallbizrestartprogram.

Grant recipients from The Right Place’s coverage area expressed their gratitude for the capital.

“Receiving this grant has been such a blessing for The Vegan Cheesecake Company,” said Jerica Buchanan, founder of The Vegan Cheesecake Company in greater Grand Rapids. “Our business growth plans were put on hold due to COVID-19, and I was afraid my hard work in starting this company would all have been in vain. Thanks to this grant, I will be able to pay off debt, restructure our website for e-commerce, hire a team, purchase equipment and get the business up and running again.”

Rachel Attard, co-owner of Medical Mile Massage and Yoga Therapy Center, said the grant she received will allow her business “a softer landing” to continue providing its natural health and wellness services.

Rachel Attard, Medical Mile Massage and Yoga Therapy Center Courtesy of Russ Climie, Tiberius Images

“It will allow us to rebrand our group fitness studio so we can provide more one-to-one services,” she said. “We can hire new staff after losing several. We can pay our two months’ back rent. Medical Mile Massage and Yoga Therapy Center can continue to be a healthy, self-care-focused outlet that helps people manage the increased stress that has been thrust upon us all.”

Danielle Camp, co-founder of Just Like Home Adult Center in Ionia, said the grant came with perfect timing.

“We are a rather new business, having been opened for only a year and a half. Our business is extremely important to our community, as we are the only adult day center in this county,” Camp said. “This grant enabled us the ability to purchase the necessary PPE without concern that we wouldn’t be able to pay our rent because of it. It allowed us to bring back our employees when we opened up full time and with our full client load and have the ability to pay them. Mainly, it gave us a little bit of peace of mind in a stressful, scary and challenging period of time.”

Felisha Rodriguez, founder of Wear Your Curls in Grand Rapids, said her company wasn’t able to funnel funds into increasing brand awareness due to the pandemic this year but will be able to do so now.

“I had to shift my sales strategy and plan on using a sizable part of the grant toward marketing and advertising,” she said. “Social media has become a popular outlet for many during these unforeseen times; therefore, I am focusing my advertising efforts on these platforms. I will need a team to help me better manage this, and so I plan to use part of the grant to hire one or two people to become part of the WYC team, whether it’s a part-time employee or a contractor.”

Lakeshore Advantage impact

Lakeshore Advantage, in collaboration with the MEDC and regional partners, awarded $3.325 million to 428 small businesses and nonprofits in Allegan and Ottawa counties through the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant Program. Lakeshore Advantage received 887 grant applications with a total monetary request of nearly $9.3 million. Grant amounts ranged from $4,000 to $20,000.

“We are grateful to the MEDC and all of our state and federal leaders for making this funding a priority,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “There are thousands of small businesses and nonprofits here on the lakeshore that are the heartbeat of our communities. While the demand is very high, and there are limited funds, this grant provided hundreds of businesses with critical working capital needed to remain viable, to adapt and to thrive despite the challenges of this new COVID-19 reality.”

In Allegan and Ottawa counties, 68% of the total funding for small businesses — $2.08 million — was awarded to women-, minority- and veteran-owned small businesses that self-selected in the following categories:

  • Women-owned businesses: 43%
  • Minority-owned businesses: 8%
  • Veteran-owned businesses: 4%
  • More than one category (women, minority, veteran): 13%

Kerri DeVries, owner of Paint a Pot in Holland, said the Small Business Restart grant was exactly what her company needed to jumpstart its recovery.

“Our local pottery shop was hit hard by spring shutdowns brought on by COVID-19,” she said. “This funding will allow us to serve more customers by extending our hours, adding staff and utilizing more space in our building, just in time for our busy holiday season.”

Applicants were vetted by reviewers from local chambers of commerce, community foundations and community partners such as Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, United Way and Women of Color GIVE. The criteria for grant awards was approved by a diverse review panel composed of major business leaders from employers including Gentex, Herman Miller and Haworth and former small business grantees. The review committee was chaired by Mike Ramirez, Orka Automation, with Holly Johnson, Frey Foundation, serving as co-chair. The process and scoring system approved by the review committee allowed for 48% of applicants in Allegan and Ottawa counties to receive funding.

Alison Peterson-Loll, owner of Bravo! Arts Academy in Marshall, echoed the theme of gratitude for receiving a grant.

“Bravo Arts Academy needs to be the foundation for its students, to be something that makes sense when so much around them no longer (does). … On behalf of my current students and the students I dream will cross my path one day, thank you for this grant opportunity, a lifetime of reward and return guaranteed,” she said.

Funds are being distributed by Lakeshore Advantage directly to the grantees. About 5% of the $3.5 million, or $175,000, was shared among Lakeshore Advantage and its strategic partners to help administer the grant.

Businesses applied for the grant program through a universal application administered by MEDC.

More information about the Michigan Small Business Restart Grant Program and how it was administered by Lakeshore Advantage, including a list of the Allegan and Ottawa grant recipients, is available at lakeshoreadvantage.com/restart.

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