AKRON, Ohio — When Summit County officials announced a program to provide $5,000 grants to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic, they expected a lot of interest.
However, they were stunned when 1,035 small businesses applied for the grants. That equates to one out every eight small businesses in the entire county. The grant acceptance period closed on April 13.
"It just shows that there is just an overwhelming need within the community to support these small businesses and it just shows the sheer impact," said Brian Nelsen, the chief executive for Summit County Executive Ilene Shaprio. "The businesses read like a who's who of restaurants, health and beauty care and auto repair places."
To be eligible, the businesses must be a for-profit enterprise located in Summit County. Additionally, the businesses must employ between three and twenty-five people with at least 50 percent of their employees residing in Summit County.
The county contributed $530,000 from the general fund and another $220,000 through federal community development block grant funds. Contributions were also made by Key Bank, Jump Start, the city of Akron and the Greater Akron Chamber.
The total for the grant project has reached about $1.3 million. The money is being managed by the Greater Akron Chamber. At this point, about 250 small businesses can be assisted with $5,000 grants.
Nelsen said a scoring model is being developed to help determine how the grants can be most impactful and help save jobs.
"We're trying to make sure that the businesses that get the funds truly need the funds and it truly makes a difference in their ability to pay their bills and keep their business afloat," he said.
Fred Karm, owner of Hoppin' Frog Brewery in Akron, said the coronavirus crisis has been devastating to his business.
He has temporarily closed his restaurant and furloughed more than 20 employees. He's doing curbside pickup for his craft beer six days a week.
"If you look at the business as a whole, we're down to 20 percent of our normal revenue. We expect to see that for roughly three months," Karm said.
In addition to small business administration loans, Karm applied for Summit County grant money hoping it will fund some of his operational expenses.
"The Summit County grant is desperately needed for labels, for packaging products and for grain and hops. I need to brew beer," he said.
The county is hoping to raise more money for grants. For example, Nelsen said a private individual recently came forward interesting in contributing to the fund.
"These businesses, they employ 37,000 residents-- this small business sector in Summit County. In total, it's an extremely important part of our economy," Nelsen added.
The county is in the process of reviewing all of the applications and hopes to have money in the hands of some of the small business owners as soon as possible.
"Our goal was to be—by the end of next week—in a place to where we're beginning to process payments to these businesses," Nelsen said.