Michigan small business relief program flooded with applications

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A $10 million grant program aimed at helping small businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic was flooded with applications Tuesday.

The Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Program began accepting online applications on a first-come, first-served basis at 9 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., the program had received 2,700 completed applications with about 16,000 in progress, according to Kathleen Achtenberg with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. That’s 28 times the number of businesses the program can help, if all selected applicants are awarded the maximum amount of $15,000.

Given the overwhelming response, the MEDC closed the online application program at the end of the business day. 

According to its website, “as of 6:00 p.m. 6,136 applications have been submitted with more than 11,600 remaining in the queue.” 

“The sheer volume of applications in the first few hours of the Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative application going live could not make it clearer the need for additional relief for our small businesses – whether through legislative action here in Michigan or at the federal level,” Achtenberg wrote in an email to News 8.

With no time or money to waste, David Jurgenson with The Curragh Irish Pub in Holland was among the first to submit an application.  

“I planned on trying to log on right at 9 o’clock,” Jurgenson said. “I was number 148 (in the queue) or something and I had to wait about a half an hour.” 

If selected as a recipient, Jurgenson hopes to use the grant money to help keep staff on the payroll.  

“One of the questions we had to answer (on the application) was ‘would you have to eliminate a full-time position if you didn’t get this grant?’” Jurgenson said. “The other question was, ‘will you keep a full-time position if you do get the grant?’ I answered yes to both of those.” 

Ed Garner, the regional director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, has been assisting his members in grant and loan processes like this one.  

Garner said the Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Program has set aside $1.3 million for businesses in the West Michigan region.  

But given the number of businesses in need, he said that amount of money can only go so far. 

“(It’ll) be able to assist around 86 or 87 businesses with this grant,” Garner said about the West Michigan region. 

Aside from restaurants, bowling alleys are another hard-hit industry hoping to benefit from the grant money. 

“The first thing I’m going to catch up on is some of my utility bills and some of my payments with the bank,” Donn Slimmen, owner of Spartan West Bowling Alley said. “We’ve been closed for 220 days this year with no revenue, so that tells you how far behind we are.” 

Achtenberg said the MEDC and its administrator, the Michigan Municipal League Foundation, expected demand to go well beyond the CARES Act funds the program can give and “planned for this eventuality.”

The agency is relying on time stamps on submitted applications and email alerts to applicants waiting for their turn to keep the process flowing.

“We are confident that approach and process is working,” Achtenberg stated.

Achtenberg said the vendor hosting the online application confirmed there is no unusual activity in application processing, including bots.

Businesses eligible for the grants will be notified by the MML Foundation the week of Jan. 13 with what they need to do next to secure funding. The MEDC expects to distribute the $10 million by late January.

**Correction: A previous version of this article stated Garner was with the Small Business Association of Michigan. He is actually with the Michigan Small Business Development Center. We regret the mistake, which has been fixed.