by Carolyn Bick
Starting at noon today, the City of Seattle will accept a new round of applicants for small business stabilization grants, meant to assist small Seattle businesses and economic opportunity nonprofits that have suffered financially as a consequence of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As it did in the spring, the fund — called the Small Business Stabilization Fund, operated through the City’s Office of Economic Development (OED) — will distribute $4 million in total in the form of $10,000 grants to eligible applicants. The fund’s webpage states that it received more than 9,000 applications in the spring, but that “[b]ecause the need exceeded the available resources, the application process was not re-opened — instead, grantees for the second and third round were chosen by lottery from the original pool of eligible applicants.”
This round of applications opens at 12 p.m. today, Nov. 9, and closes on Nov. 30. In order to be considered for a grant, small businesses must meet several eligibility criteria, including having 25 or fewer employees, making $2 million or less in annual net revenue, and having no more than two locations. They must also have been in business for at least 12 months, and may not have received a stabilization grant earlier this year. Nonprofits must meet a few additional criteria, including the stipulation that they provide economic opportunity through education or job training.
The newest round of grants is funded by a joint COVID-19 relief bill originally written by Seattle City Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda that the Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan passed in August. However, not all the grants will be distributed this year. The OED said that there is enough funding for $2.37 million in grants in 2020 and another $1.6 million in grants in 2021.
The City will also be committing $1.25 million in 2021 to working with community organizations to guide grant prioritization for vulnerable or underserved community businesses. The press release did not state which community organizations these might be, nor how they will be chosen.
In an email to the Emerald on the evening of Nov. 9, OED Communications Advisor Karissa Braxton said that “[n]o community organization has been selected.”
“In January OED will conduct a Request for Qualification (RFQ) process and encourage community organizations to apply. From that RFQ process, OED will select an organization to help improve our prioritization of grants to the most vulnerable and traditionally underserved businesses during the next round of the Small Business Stabilization Fund,” Braxton’s email read.
The OED will be hosting two webinars to help small businesses prepare to apply. The first webinar will take place on Nov. 12 from 12–1 p.m. and the second webinar will take place on Nov. 18 from 12–1 p.m. OED staff will be available to provide language assistance.
In her email to the Emerald, Braxton said that “[i]f a business owner needs assistance in completing the application or has questions, they can contact the Seattle Office of Economic Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 684-8090.”
“If calling, they can select their language and leave a voice mail in language with their name and contact info. An in-language staff member will return their call as soon as possible,” Braxton said in her email, and said that Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Somali, and Amharic are available. “If a business owner needs assistance in other languages they can call (206) 684-8090 and leave a voicemail on the main line or email OED@seatt.gov. They will need to provide their name, contact info and language need and someone will return their call. Additionally, our webpage can be translated to assist business owners understand the information and process to successfully apply for the grant.”
In the first round, the stabilization fund was able to provide 469 small businesses with grants. According to the dashboard on the OED’s Small Business Stabilization Fund webpage, 32% of grantees identified as Asian, 31% identified as white, and 21% identified as Black. A further 6% identified as Hispanic or Latinx, 5% identified as other, 4% identified as mixed race, and 1% identified as Indigenous. The dashboard also shows a fairly even split between man-owned and woman-owned businesses. A large percentage of last round’s grantees appear to be located in City Council Districts 7 and 2.