By Jan Gottesman
MILLBURY – During difficult times, friends and neighbors come together.
This is one of the beliefs behind the Millbury Small Business Recovery Grant.
Using federal funds from ARPA, the program is “intended to address the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency, focusing on the identified need and impact faced by small businesses.”
Administered by City Manager Sean Hendricks, the federal money is being used to help businesses across the community survive after being hurt during the pandemic.
“These people have kept the city alive over the years and this is one way the city is giving back,” Hendricks said.
Millbury received $4.3 million in ARPA funds and initially invested $250,000 in the Small Business Recovery Grant. This money was quickly awarded and the Board of Selectmen voted to give an additional $250,000.
In a recent board update, Hendricks said 33 companies received $393,800, with grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.
The panel includes Hendricks, two members of the Board of Selectmen and an executive from a local credit union.
The original requirement was for a business to exist in January 2020 – before the pandemic took hold in that country. Businesses could seek assistance with lost revenue, facility updates, and business planning.
“One of the things we’ve seen nationally and globally is that companies weren’t nimble enough to change their business plans to respond to the stresses of the pandemic,” Hendricks said.
But few Millbury businesses applied under this option. Most were seeking help with lost income (providing three years of financial resources to advocate for) and capital expenditures, such as new HVAC systems to help address health safety issues.
Although some federal programs have been abused, this has not been a problem with this program, as it is such a “personal program”.
“People know each other and see the effects,” Hendricks said. “These are people who have been around for a while and people are fond of.”
And it’s face-to-face, with Hendricks personally delivering checks and final paperwork to each recipient, whether at city offices or at the company itself. “With the relatively small amount of money and familiarity, the chances of fraud are almost nil.”
Shortly after the program was launched, the panel overseeing the program saw another pool of potential beneficiaries. Some businesses were ready to open when the pandemic hit – some already had most of their permits in place. These business owners had used their own money to start their business, or had taken out loans, and then were unable to open due to COVID.
The program has been modified so that these people can also apply for help.
Many of the businesses that applied for and received grants were restaurants, as well as beauticians and barbers.
“The program is still open,” Hendricks said. “We have at least another $100,000 to distribute.”
Initially, some companies were “reluctant” to ask for help.
“They didn’t want to be seen as bad business people or as needing help,” Hendricks said. “But there is no shame in getting help. I would tell them it’s a once in a lifetime thing. No one will ever offer to help you in this way again.
Not only is it rewarding to see businesses stay open and serve the community, Hendricks said he really enjoyed the personal contact.
“I saw tears and smiles and hugs and everyone says it really helped,” he said.
While the city uses the rest of its ARPA funds for capital projects, such as the recent updates to the Wooly World baseball area on Washington Street, this grant program is another way for federal funds to help Millbury for years to come.
“With the ARPA funds, we want people to drive or walk around town and see visible deliverables,” being able to see the improvements the city has been able to make, Hendricks said. “Small Business Stimulus Grants fit in. The businesses are still there. They may have been able to change their facade or buy a new sign. They are taxpayers the city relies on.
Helping small businesses Small businesses are the ones that step in when a charity asks for something or a sports team needs a sponsor.
Hendricks described the business owners who applied as “great people.” He pointed to the landlord of Felters Mill on West Street, who was working with his tenants on rents, ‘gave them a pass and took a huge hit as landlord’.
Other businesses that have benefited from the grant program include: Christopher’s Homemade Ice Cream, Classic Tailoring, Edge Hair Studio, Elm Draft House Cinema, 9Round Gym, Bob’s Razor’s Edge Barber Shop, Calabria Restaurant, Floral Boutique, Jack Moore Associates, JEP Contracting, Krave Fitness, M&D Contracting, McLaughlin’s Service Station, Millbury Old Time Inn, National Gallery Framing & Gifts, Penny Pinchers Brewing Co., Puffins Restaurant, Ray’s Barber Shop, Spicy Water Distillers, TAJ Tropicals and Trinkets, Timothy Jay Sweets, Wheelock Inn and Worcester Council Collective.
Hendricks expects the program to end at the end of the year. Then, in 18 to 24 months, he hopes to contact companies to see how they are doing, how many are still in business, what specific improvements they have made, etc., and then report back to the board.
“I want people to see what kind of positive effect this program has had,” Hendricks said. “I am so happy that so many business owners have taken advantage of the program and that there is still money to help. I really want people to enjoy it. »