MUSKEGON, MI – A local economic development agency will receive almost $70,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds in order to study the needs of small businesses in West Michigan.
A representative for the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the grant Friday at a press conference in front of the Muskegon Innovation Hub, 200 Viridian Drive, a project of Grand Valley State University.
The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC) will receive $68,250 in money from the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package passed in March, to analyze the “entrepreneurial support needs” of businesses in West Michigan, including those serviced by start-up accelerators like the Innovation Hub.
“The study will produce information that will aid the economic development community in responding to the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs during and after the pandemic,” said Michael J. Walsh, chief of staff to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, on Friday as he announced the award.
Small businesses were especially hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, said Dale Nesbary, president of Muskegon Community College, speaking in his capacity as WMSRDC vice chair.
“Given that we are in the middle of a pandemic, some of the data that we will use will help us as a region … provide additional support for entrepreneurs trying to determine how we can move past this in an efficient and effective way,” Nesbary said.
The landscape for small businesses has changed significantly during the pandemic, said Kevin Ricco, the Hub’s director.
It wasn’t that long ago, he said, the hub had a pretty good idea of what most entrepreneurs walking through the front door needed.
“Now, it’s a different era,” Ricco said. “Things are not the same as they were six or seven months ago
And small businesses have been essential to downtown Muskegon’s resurgence, he added.
The transformation of Muskegon’s downtown “has been nothing short of remarkable over the last several years,” he said. “That’s really driven by entrepreneurs.”
The study will be conducted by interviewing small business owners and entrepreneurs across several counties, said Ricco, to assess what’s missing in the current landscape of resources available.
“We’ve got this new normal business market, and we need to tailor our services to meet those needs,” he said.
The study could take about six months, Thomas Hopper, the associate director for business development at the Hub, told MLive.
WMSRDC services 127 local units of government in Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Ottawa counties. The agency also received $400,000 in CARES Act funds earlier in the year, Walsh said, in a grant aimed at “developing a strategy” to support area manufacturing, agricultural and tourism industries.
The grant will be awarded from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA), and matched with $17,063, for a total of $85,313 for the study.
All told, the CARES Act provides for $1.5 billion in local economic development assistance.
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