Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
It’s tough to run a business if no one knows about it. And it’s even tougher if you’re struggling to buy the needed equipment, pay your staff, or cover your operational costs.
The third round of grants to help small businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown – announced on Aug. 18, 2022 -- will help 60 local enterprises clear hurdles like those, and many others.
Each is set to receive a $5,000 share of some $300,000 allocated in the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant program. It is supported by the United Way of South Central Michigan working with the City of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, along with Consumers Energy.
Lavel Jackson is using the money to raise the profile of his business by advertising online and by placing yard signs around town.
“I also used some of the grant funds to purchase equipment,” says Jackson, owner of Pressure Power Washing, a water-pressure washing service that can be hired to clean driveways, decks, fencing, parking lots, patios, concrete, roofs, and homes. “These investments are helping my business go to the next level in terms of getting more jobs and hiring more people.”
The grant funding was approved by the Kalamazoo City Commission in March and the United Way reviewed grant requests during the summer. According to information provided by the organizations, 270 applications were received, and 60 were selected from some180 that were deemed eligible for funding.
Pressure Power Washing, owned by Lavel Jackson, is one of 60 Kalamazoo-based business to receive $5,000 grants through the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant Program.
Molly Trueblood, associate director of Community Impact for Small Businesses for the United Way, says the grant program “serves a vital role in supporting our community’s smallest businesses, especially those owned by individuals from historically under-resourced populations. When these small businesses succeed, they strengthen the economy of their neighborhoods and ultimately the city as a whole.”
Providing targeted support to those micro-enterprises, she says, “is also a key step in building a more equitable community.”
The grants have been awarded to for-profit businesses in the city of Kalamazoo that have fewer than 10 employees, that have less than $1 million in annual revenue, that have been in business for at least one year, and that have demonstrated a need for capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or similar business expenses.
he Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant Program, which was launched in 2020 to help tiny businesses that were hard hit by the pandemic. Shown here are the hands of power-washing company owner Lavel Jackson.
According to information provided by the United Way, they include businesses located in 17 neighborhoods. And the giving appears to meet an objective to support area residents living below the ALICE threshold, with a strong focus on providing support to BIPOC-owned and women-owned microbusinesses, as well as the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods of Northside, Eastside, and Edison.
ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color. Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo is an effort by the city, the Foundation For Excellence, and community groups to help historically underserved areas achieve economic success.
The Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant program was launched in 2020 and allocated $500,000 to 100 small businesses that year. Last year, it allocated $450,000 to 90 businesses in the city of Kalamazoo. Another round of grants, providing an additional $300,000 to micro-enterprise businesses, is to be awarded this year.
In the latest round:
• 50 grants went to business owners who identified as Black or African American. The remaining grants went to business owners who identified as Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian, or multiple races.
• 45 grants went to business owners who identified as women.
• 37 went to businesses in Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo priority neighborhoods.
• 59 went to businesses with 2021 revenues of $50,000 or less.
“The City’s partnership with United Way and Foundation For Excellence allows us to get these financial relief grants quickly into the hands of our community’s smallest businesses,” Antonio Mitchell said in a press release. Mitchell is deputy director of Community Planning & Economic Development for the City of Kalamazoo.
Registered Nurse Toni McDaniel is founder and owner of T&T Universal LLc, a clinical testing firm. She says a new Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grant will help her business to continue.
“With its focus on underserved entrepreneurs in Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods,” he says, “this grant program plays an important role in building a strong, inclusive economy in our city.”
Toni McDaniel says the grant funding comes at a critical time for her business, T&T Universal LLC. It provides health services and clinical testing, for such things as COVID-19, for residents in underserved neighborhoods. The grant will help purchase personal protective equipment and keep clinicians employed.
“The grant will help the clinic stay open and allow us to continue bringing COVID testing services to the Northside and Edison neighborhoods,” McDaniel says. “Through the Vaccinate the Great Lakes State initiative, United Way also helped connect me to a local nonprofit fiduciary so that we can provide vaccination education to folks who receive our testing services.”
A list of the 60 grant recipients is available here