The Right Place and Lakeshore Advantage award $6.8M in survival grants

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Two of the region’s economic development agencies awarded more than $6.8 million to a combined 613 small businesses in West Michigan through the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program.

The Right Place and Lakeshore Advantage said Wednesday that in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and regional partners, they awarded funding to eligible West Michigan small businesses that have been negatively impacted by the recent Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic orders via the $55 million Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program.

The Right Place awarded $4.98 million in grant funding to 426 small businesses in Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties, and Lakeshore Advantage awarded $1.8 million to 187 small businesses in Allegan and Ottawa counties.

The grants are 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. To qualify, businesses and nonprofits must have had less than 100 employees and been able to demonstrate a significant financial hardship due to the recent COVID-19 emergency gatherings and face mask orders.

“The Michigan Small Business Survival Program is providing significant support to small businesses helping to get them through this critical time and on the path to economic recovery,” said Josh Hundt, chief business development officer and executive vice president at the MEDC. “We are thankful for the efforts of The Right Place and Lakeshore Advantage, who worked swiftly and diligently to deliver these vital financial resources within their region and create a path toward economic recovery for small businesses in Michigan.”

The Right Place grants

Nearly 85% of the funds The Right Place awarded went to food service establishments, retail and exercise facilities with 99.5% of them fully or partially closed due to the pandemic. Awardees of the Small Business Survival Grant funds reported they will be able to retain or rehire 7,558 employees in the 11-county distribution region as a result of this program.

“With this latest round of grant funding, The Right Place and our regional partners have been able to provide financial relief to another 426 small businesses in the region, most of whom have seen their operations significantly or totally halted due to COVID-19,” said Tim Mroz, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for The Right Place. “These funds are critical to struggling business owners and are one of the ways we can support a healthy economic recovery for our community.”

Demand for funding far exceeded available funds, with 3,137 applicants requesting over $47 million in support throughout the region.

The Right Place and its regional partners were responsible for distributing funds to support qualifying small businesses within 11 of the 13 counties of West Michigan’s Prosperity Region 4.

Each county assembled a local review committee for grant applications. The size of the committees varied and were composed of both 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.

Scott McNeal Courtesy The Right Place

Applications from affected businesses were accepted, reviewed and approved based on scoring criteria determined by the county review committees. A list of scoring criteria can be found here. Funds are being distributed by The Right Place directly to the awardees. More information can be found on The Right Place’s website.

“The small business grant will keep our Gus Macker Basketball business operating and allow us to make it to the outdoor recreation season,” said Scott McNeal, founder of Macker Basketball. “We have been in a survival mode with all of our summer basketball tournaments being canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The overall assistance from The Right Place has helped us find the right grants and state funds to apply for in our situation. Gus Macker works with local charity organizations to host these three-on-three festivals. The coronavirus shut down mass gatherings, and we needed to get creative in our business strategy. Thanks to The Right Place for always thinking of us.”

Jennifer Bosch, owner of Smyrna Tavern & Table in Belding, said she believes the key to surviving the pandemic-induced economic crisis is to “continually pivot and look for new ways of doing business.”

Jennifer Bosch’s business was one of 426 to receive a grant from The Right Place. Courtesy The Right Place

“We have focused on heated, outdoor service because safety protocols and capacity limitations would not allow for sales high enough to cover even a fraction of raw material and labor costs,” she said. “Fortunately, our ‘snow village’ has been extremely popular, justifying an increase in staff and operating hours. Through the grant funds, we can cover payroll while sales revenue steadily increases. We restocked food and alcohol supplies to offer a more robust menu, instead of buying bare minimums or running out and losing potential sales. These important funds have also helped cover our mortgage and utilities, which hopefully means our recovery can focus less on lagging debt and more on rebuilding. Our goal is to be the small restaurant that defies the pandemic trends and comes out wiser and more resilient.”

Lakeshore Advantage grants

Lakeshore Advantage administered $1.925 million of the $55 million in state funding for eligible businesses in Allegan and Ottawa counties, retaining 5% of the $1.925 million, or $96,250, for administrative costs. A portion of this administration fee was shared equally among strategic partners who assisted in the review process.

The Lakeshore Advantage Survival Grant Review Committee consisted of local chambers of commerce leaders and other business and community leaders. The review process and scoring system approved by the review committee allowed for 32% of applicants in Allegan and Ottawa counties to receive funding. Demand for funding far exceeded available funds with Lakeshore Advantage receiving 585 grant applications with a total monetary request of $9 million.

“The vibrancy of our lakeshore communities is closely tied to the viability of our beloved small businesses,” said Holly Johnson, president of the Frey Foundation and chair of the Lakeshore Advantage Survival Grant Review Committee. “Financial lifelines like the Michigan Small Business Survival Grants are so important because the funding ensures local restaurants, exercise facilities and recreational venues that serve residents and visitors alike have a chance to rebound despite the significant challenges related to COVID-19 over the past year.”

Businesses applied for the grants through a universal application administered by MEDC. More information about the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program and how it was administered by Lakeshore Advantage in Allegan and Ottawa counties, including a list of grant recipients and review committee members, is available online.

Grant amounts awarded by Lakeshore Advantage to the 187 small business recipients ranged from $2,385 to $20,000. Funds were distributed by Lakeshore Advantage directly to the grantees.

Jessica Luepke Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

Jessica Luepke, founder and co-owner of Valeo Training in Holland, was one of the grant recipients.

“(On) Day 1 of our six-month shutdown, we went into action mode and pivoted to online and outdoor, working long hours creating what felt like a new business overnight. Despite our ability to roll it out, we still lost a percentage of revenue that had taken us two to three years to build,” she said. “The Michigan Small Business Survival Grant has given our business a breath of relief at just the right time. We’ll be able to apply the grant money to the cost of operations so we can keep providing the level of services and care our incredible members deserve.”

Jay Zheng, owner of the Wild Chef Steakhouse in Holland, said the Hibachi grill and sushi restaurant was takeout-only from May through October for the safety of employees and customers.

“As a local small business, we are struggling hard to survive from the pandemic,” Zheng said. “The survival grant will help to keep our employees. We are very thankful for our customers’ support throughout COVID-19 with takeout orders and now limited in-person dining.”

Bruce Bellgraph, CPA and agent for Salvino’s Pizzeria in Plainwell, said the restaurant is thankful to be among the grant recipients.

Salvino’s Pizzeria in Plainwell was one of 187 small businesses to receive a grant from Lakeshore Advantage. Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

“We are aware that many businesses applied for this grant and only a small percent were able to receive them. It will come at a very good time in helping us reopen our inside dining — this has been a very trying time for all restaurants in Michigan and around the United States in general,” he said. “We feel that Michigan is making its way through the pandemic and will have a bright future ahead.”

Josh Beckett, CEO of Anna’s House, Holland and Grand Haven, echoed Bellgraph’s sentiments.

City on a Hill Courtesy Lakeshore Advantage

“We have struggled greatly during this shutdown, and we definitely have been impacted by not being able to serve our guests,” he said. “This grant money will help us reopen and serve our community as well as bring back our employees who are eager to return to work and begin earning money. We look forward to seeing our guests and serving the community again.”

Gary Ellens, director of City on a Hill in Zeeland, said the ministry is thankful.

“The Café at City on a Hill is a welcoming place that feeds both body and soul for staff and clients of the 38 ministries that work here,” he said. “Closing and restricting service during COVID cast a shadow through our whole building. This grant fills a big gap in the nonprofit café’s budget and ensures that going forward, the café can again be a bright place of food and fellowship.”

More information about the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program is online.

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