Dave Webber’s Higher Ground Distilling Co. in Mayfield was a brand-new business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Just as he was working on growing the business, government regulations forced him to close his doors.
Understandably, it was a struggle, exacerbated by the fact that Higher Ground Distilling did not qualify for COVID relief funds. “I was such a new business that I didn’t qualify for the PPP, and there was another COVID relief grant that came out, but I didn’t qualify because I was so new,” Webber said.
While Webber could not use the microenterprise grant for payroll, he did use it for equipment. “It gave us an opportunity to purchase a lot of equipment to give us a leg up on the year, especially coming out of the pandemic when business was so affected. It gave me an opportunity to get further out ahead in production. It really helped out.”
Grants are available only to microenterprises, defined as a commercial enterprise with five or fewer employees at the time of application. Grant funding must result in the creation of at least one full-time job. In the case of a low- to moderate-income business owner, the owner can qualify as the one full-time position created by owning the business.
The minimum grant for each business is $5,000, plus $10,000 additional for each full-time equivalent job created, up to a maximum of $25,000. Grant recipients are required to invest 10 percent equity in their projects.
However, there was money avaiable to help, and Fulton County Center for Regional Growth (FCCRG) knew where to find it.
Grants can be used for capital assets such as real estate, buildings, machinery and equipment as well as working capital. It cannot be used for construction, building rehabilitation or renovation, or for passive investing.
The grant program is designed to set small business owners up for success, so it includes an entrepreneurial training requirement. In order to apply for a grant, a business owner is required to take a 12-hour course given in four modules. The course provides attendees with a comprehensive look at what it takes to run a small business profitably and effectively. The classes cover legal and employee issues, marketing, branding, e-commerce, social media, recordkeeping, finances, accounting, taxes, and how to develop a business plan. “We bring in specialists like lawyers, Department of Labor advisors, accountants, and business advisors,” said Kenneth Adamczyk, Economic Development Specialist at the FCCRG. “The classes help them grow their business.”
In addition, attendees finish the course with a host of resources to use when problems arise. “A small business is very difficult to run,” Adamczyk said. “When a problem pops up, they have somebody they can go to rather than just being out there and going it alone.”
He now teaches the classes to business owners in neighboring Montgomery County. “I’ve trained about 140 different business owners since August 2019,” Adamczyk said.
In 2021, the grant program helped GrassRoots Lawn Specialists in Northville to purchase an aerator, highwall trailer, and ride-on spreader, all pieces of equipment that allowed the business to be much more efficient at the services it performs. This resulted in needing less labor in the field, so the company was able to reinvest some of its employees’ time into other areas of the business. “We took one of our laborers and turned her into a full-time landscape designer, and she was able to grow that business a lot,” said owner Darcy Morehouse. The business, founded in 2017, has five employees.
In addition to the Microenterprise Grant Program, the FCCRG administered the distribution of $500,000 of federal funds as part of the Community Development Block Grant CARES Act. Microenterprises, as well as small businesses of 25 or fewer employees, were eligible to apply. The FCCRG distributed grants of up to $75,000 to 11 small businesses.
Not all counties take advantage of these funds, Adamczyk noted, adding that they see it as too much time and paperwork for too little money. But he knows the difference that the funds can make for a nascent business, and he operates the application and administration of the grants as quickly as possible to provide more funds for more businesses.
Adamczyk cites the case of Bright Futures Learning Center in Mayfield. When director Cheryl Curtis first opened the business with three employees, she was awarded a $25,000 microenterprise grant. “Now she is up to 21 employees and is growing again,” he said. “That is the success of a microenterprise grant and what it can do.”