Partnership makes $5,000 grants available to the smallest Kalamazoo businesses hit by COVID-19

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series and our ongoing COVID-19 coverage. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the pandemic please let us know here.

A lot of small business people aren’t really sure what happened to their shares of the late-March multibillion-dollar federal aid package that was intended to help them survive the coronavirus shut-down.

And the next multi-billion-dollar package of aid – from other federal and state sources with plenty of acronyms and complicated paperwork – doesn’t appear to be showing up just yet.

So a $5,000 shot in the arm from sources here in Kalamazoo may get a better reception – even though it comes with its own share of acronyms.
A partnership between the City of Kalamazoo and the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region has launched a $500,000 grant program to try to bring crucial financial relief to the smallest Kalamazoo businesses hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. 

The Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants (KMEG) program is set to provide grants of $5,000 to eligible microbusinesses within the city limits.

The focus is on the smallest

“KMEG fills an important need in our community, helping the smallest businesses get help and persevere through this challenging time,” Antonio Mitchell, community investment manager for the City of Kalamazoo, said in a press release. 

Micro-enterprises, or microbusinesses, are businesses that typically have no more than 10 employees. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, they make up nearly 75 percent of all private-sector employers and bring unique skills and services to their communities. And according to information provided by the United Way, many are minority- or women-owned businesses that are vital to the income and wealth generation in underserved communities. 

Antonio Mitchell Sr., community investment manager for the City of Kalamazoo
Here come the acronyms

Grants are intended to support Kalamazoo residents living below the ALICE threshold. ALICE stands for people and families who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained but Employed. 

Grant awards are expected to have a focus on providing support to BIPOC-owned and women-owned microbusinesses, which have experienced disproportionate effects from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the sponsoring agencies. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Secondary consideration is being given to eligible businesses located in Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo neighborhoods. Those are Kalamazoo’s Northside, Edison and Eastside neighborhoods.

Businesses seeking KMEG grants must demonstrate an income loss as a result of the governor’s executive orders or the COVID-19 outbreak and they must need working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses, or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business or that demonstrate an effort to support public health.

Requirements for grants

Eligible businesses must have 10 employees or fewer and have annual revenue of $1 million or less. They must also be: 

• At least one year old;

• Located in the City of Kalamazoo; 

• And be for-profit companies in an industry outlined in Executive Order 2020-21, or any previous and subsequent executive order of similar intent, or demonstrate they are otherwise affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Executive Order 2020-21, March 24, requires individuals to adhere to social distancing measures when they leave home and it prohibits businesses from requiring their workers to leave their homes unless those workers “are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.”

“This new grant initiative shows again how the power of partnership makes a difference,” says Chris Sargent, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. “We’re excited to apply our expertise in grant-making to benefit this crucial business sector and Kalamazoo as a whole.”

Some other things to know

KMEG funds can be used for, but are not limited to: operational costs such as rent, mortgage, utilities, and other ordinary business expenses; payroll and benefit costs for employees; financial effects from the pandemic and executive orders; and costs for supporting public health as a business reopens.

Recipients must use their grant funds within six months and report to United Way on how the funds were used. 

Eligible businesses can apply at changethestory.org/micro-enterprise-grants. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on May 27 at 5 p.m.

Applications are to be reviewed by a committee that includes United Way staff and diverse representatives from business, financial and community groups from across Kalamazoo. Decisions on funding are to be made by June 1. 

More information about the Kalamazoo Micro-Enterprise Grants is available at changethestory.org or by sending an email to: smallbusiness@uwbckr.org.

KMEG is being funded by a $200,000 grant from the Consumers Energy Foundation and $300,000 from the City of Kalamazoo’s Foundation For Excellence. 

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.
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