Small businesses cite awareness and availability as barriers to finding financial resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard. And small business owners and entrepreneurs in St. Clair County are no exception.

However, there are organizations in the region that strive to provide opportunities for our small businesses. For example, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County is the largest granting foundation in the thumb region of Michigan. Located in Port Huron, the Community Foundation provides local residents with resources through the help of various donors, volunteers and partners to help develop and support the community.

A branch of the Community Foundation called the Equity and Inclusion Committee tackles the challenges faced by local minorities and women with small businesses.

It is no small task to bring together such a wealth of information and resources without teamwork and the efforts of multiple agencies and individuals. Enter Kanchan Wankhede. Founder and CEO of Great Workplace, Wankhede is also a consultant in human resources and organizational development and inclusion. Contracted by the St. Clair County Community Foundation, Kanchan has been tasked with helping women and local minority business owners navigate their way through the complex and sometimes daunting task of finding and applying for funding.

Wankhede, a resident of St. Clair County, has been an invaluable asset not only to business owners, but to the Community Foundation team as a whole. His skills include designing simple and user-friendly HR processes and policies; provide leadership coaching to senior executives and entrepreneurs; and promote diversity and inclusion. The last of these skills is especially useful when interacting and building relationships with black business owners within the community.

Awareness and availability are two of the biggest challenges when it comes to securing resources. Whether through federal grants and loans or charitable donations, Kanchan has helped connect the community to vital information in these uncertain times.

Kanchan WankhedeAwareness and availability

Sensitization. Many small business owners are simply not properly informed of the options and resources available to them.

“There just isn’t a lot of advertising on the big platforms where people can find the resources,” says Wankhede.

She offers solutions to combat and help meet this challenge, including social media posts, links to federal grants and loans, and word of mouth; the latter of which she says is “one of the most important things for a small business owner.”

Availablity. The second challenge often encountered once one knows where to find the appropriate resources is the frequency with which they are available. Many grants are urgent or funding-based; which means that availability may be interrupted by deadline or by the amount of financial resources available to applicants.

A financial aid source issued by the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of St. Clair County, the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grants Program in the City of Port Huron, was designed to deal with the difficulties faced by entrepreneurs and small business owners in the region. Although this deadline has since passed, additional resources are available on the EDA COVID-19 Resources page.

Jazmyn Thomas is another key member of the community helping local black business owners. Thomas, a native of St. Clair County for 25 years, is the Associate Planner for Community Development for Macomb County, but works closely with the St. Clair County Community Foundation. Some of his duties include administering grants for federally funded projects such as non-profit organizations and homeless shelters.

Thomas has been in her current position for four years, helping residents of both counties when and how she can. When not working, Thomas can usually be found afterwards in her hometown of Port Huron, helping the Community Foundation or its aforementioned branch, the Equity and Inclusion Committee, formed in late 2019.

The Equity and Inclusion Committee, which is made up of a diverse group of local community members, focuses on providing information and financial resources to underserved residents. This benefits not only black residents and women, but also Native American, Hispanic, Veteran, and disabled populations.

“The Equity and Inclusion Committee through the Community Foundation sponsored reduced rate memberships for minority and women owned businesses. This initiative encourages minority and women owned business owners to become more involved in the community, build relationships and hopefully learn about resources that could help their business, ”said Thomas .

When asked why they were targeting minority-owned businesses with more effort during the pandemic, Thomas replied this. “Minority and women-owned businesses are already at a disadvantage when they open … and historically they don’t have access to generational wealth as often as their white counterparts.”

Naesa Richardson, owner of the Flourish Hair GalleryConnect entrepreneurs with resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the already difficult task of running and maintaining a small business, but thanks to the efforts of local organizations such as the Community Foundation and EDA, many have been and still are able to. get relief through federal grants. like other sources.

One of the beneficiaries is Naesa Richardson. Richardson, originally from Port Huron and resident for 32 years, is the owner of the Flourish Hair Gallery. The hair and nail salon opened in March 2019 and is located in the same town where she grew up. At the start of the pandemic-related closures, hair salons were not considered “essential”, so many were left in the dark on how to generate income for their businesses.

Flourish has found a way to do just that: Flourish. Despite the many challenges she has faced, Richardson has been successful in continuing to serve the community and is grateful for the resources presented to her through the efforts of Kanchan Wankhede and others.

“There isn’t a lot of mainstream advertising to inform the public about grants and resources available to business owners,” says Richardson. “More advertising on larger or more visible platforms would help. “

Arytel Music Group, a recording studio and entertainment center, is owned by Clifton Morgan, a longtime resident of Port Huron and St. Clair County. Opening its doors to the public in September, Morgan was tasked with trying to figure out how to make things work. So, after a small rebranding and renovations to the newly acquired building, Morgan has found its rhythm.

“The COVID-19 business loan helped me put things in place,” Morgan says. Before acquiring the knowledge of the resources available, he funded everything to start the business using his 9 to 5 finances.

As the city of Port Huron grapples with the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on ways to empower minority and female business owners has been a top priority of the Equity and Development Committee. ‘inclusion.

Brigitte Haller, owner of Aristotte Learning child care center in Port Huron, said: “Without the grants, loans and support from Kanchan, it would be even more difficult than it is today.

Without the knowledge and awareness of resources, this can really wreak havoc on a small business. Fortunately, however, there are those who work to connect small business owners with the resources available.

Harold D. Powell is The Keel’s community correspondent. Email him at [email protected] for tips and stories.

Louis R. Hancock

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