Franklin County Commissioners approved nearly $2 million Tuesday in financial assistance to minority-owned businesses, and another $1.5 million in rental assistance funding.
Just over $1 million is being earmarked for grants to help small businesses still struggling as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Another $950,000 will go toward low-interest loans to assist businesses that have been unable to secure conventional financing for new or expanding operations.
Both programs will be administered by the Columbus Urban League and will build on a Business Growth and Equity Alliance launched by the county last year to provide support for minority-owned businesses.
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“Small businesses, especially Black- and minority-owned businesses, in Franklin County are still having difficulties,” said Jim Schimmer, the county’s director of economic development and planning. “They are struggling to make sure that they’re keeping their doors open.”
The grant funds will help businesses maintain payroll and pay other costs, as COVID-19 continues to affect their sales, Schimmer said.
“While 59% of Black-owned businesses have been able to stay afloat since the pandemic, we know that there’s still not revenue being generated and that revenue continues to drop amongst these Black-owned businesses in Franklin County,” said Columbus Urban League Stephanie Hightower.
The loan funds approved Tuesday will provide low-interest, micro-financing of up to $5,000, which will help to establish credit histories for minority-owned businesses and provide a path toward other financing as those operations expand.
“Racial implicit bias results in smaller and fewer loans being made to minority businesses overall, as well as loans at less favorable rates and terms,” Schimmer said. “Unfortunately, business owners of color have faced documented difficulties in obtaining credit and getting access to much-needed capital to grow their businesses.”
Kenny McDonald, chief executive officer of One Columbus, Greater Columbus’ economic development organization, told the commissioners that 3% of the 30,000 businesses in the area are Black- and minority-owned, further spotlighting the need for the loan and grant funding approved Tuesday.
Commissioner Kevin Boyce, who supported the funding, said he planned to closely track the results of both programs.
“What I like about this conversation is, this isn’t just handing someone a check and good luck opening your business,” he said. “There are other elements to this that support that small business being able to get up and running.”
In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved another $1.5 million in rental assistance for low-income families, the latest allocation aimed at helping residents facing eviction stay in their homes.
Vivian Turner, assistant director of Franklin County Job and Family Services, said the county’s expanded Prevention, Retention and Contingency Emergency Rental Assistance Program this year has already provided $1.5 million for rent and utility assistant for more than 360 families.
The additional funding doubles the amount allocated for the program and will assist additional families with at least one minor child or a pregnant parent, Turner said.