How small businesses navigated pandemic aid

Posted at 7:53 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 07:53:01-04

DETROIT, Mich. — It's been more than three weeks since our state's remaining COVID-related restrictions were lifted, so we're exploring the hit small businesses have taken during the pandemic, what recovery is looking like now, and the road ahead.

For many metro Detroit small businesses, government aid during the pandemic has been a vital lifeline.

Espy Thomas, one of the owners of Sweet Potato Sensations, received one of the nearly 180,000 Paycheck Protection Program or PPP loans granted in Michigan by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The PPP was definitely helpful to help us with paying staff," Thomas told Action News. "To me it was a fairly simple process as long as all your paperwork was buttoned up.”

All told the program shelled out more than $8.4 billion in our state, with the average loan amount being around $42,000.

“The very first round and allocation of PPP dollars was bumpy for sure," said former Lt. Governor and current head of the Small Business Association of Michigan, Brian Calley.

91 percent of Michigan's Small Business Association members took advantage of PPP according to Calley, who overall sees the program as successful.

Where payroll wasn't a business' largest expense other federal programs sought to fill the gaps, like the Shuttered Venue Grant and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund; we saw locally a major hiccup with the latter, when funds ran out before all those approved could get their cash.

“To have that lifeline thrown to us was exciting. To find out it was going to be rescinded was devastating," Matt Buskard of Bobcat Bonnie's told Action News back in late June.

"Big businesses have continuity plans," said Prof. Bertie Greer, Associate Dean at Wayne State's Mike Illitch School of Business. "They have already put together some thoughts and done risk management," she said.

On top of generally having less cash on hand, makes smaller businesses are especially vulnerable during a period of uncertainty like a pandemic, Greer said.

“Just applying for all the grants and all the opportunities is a lot if you’re like a solopreneur doing things by yourself and you don’t have a lot of people to help," Thomas said. "It is a job for just like one person to kind of sit and look at what’s coming through the pipeline.”

The PPP Flexibility Act became law in June 2020 and was designed to expand PPP and make it easier for businesses to apply it. The legislation received bipartisan support in Washington including from several Michigan lawmakers.