Modified: December 28, 2020 1:42pm

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The Erie County Back to Business Grant Program has issued its final report on the Program’s accomplishments, showing a total of 1,399 Erie County small businesses receiving approximately $19.2 million in direct financial assistance from the U.S. CARES Act through an unprecedented partnership between Erie County and 43 North. County-based small businesses with 50 or fewer employees were eligible to apply for the program, which emphasized need in the distribution of meaningful amounts of funding to as many small businesses as possible. The median grant amount awarded was $10,000. The Back to Business grant program prioritized small businesses that had not received COVID-related aid, as well as minority- and women- owned businesses, businesses in highly-distressed zip codes, and those seeking to hire or bring back furloughed/laid off employees.   


Erie County and 43 North initially met to discuss the formation of the grant program on September 18, with the program officially rolling out and taking applications on October 13. The application period closed three weeks later, on November 2, after receiving 5,022 completed applications requesting approximately $95 million in aid to. 2,882 of these applications were deemed eligible for consideration through a multi-phased review process involving nearly 300 reviewers. This process included manual and automated evaluation techniques and was completed by 43North and hired certified consultants along with trained volunteers from M&T Bank, Ernst & Young, and the Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals.


“The Back to Business grant program provided an opportunity to help Erie County-based small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while nearly $20 million in critical funding was invested in almost 1,400 local businesses, a great need for more federal assistance remains,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “I thank my economic team, led by Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte, and the team at 43North for the tremendous work they did in administering this grant program and for helping to get millions of dollars to local small businesses in a matter of weeks. While the current administration in Washington has left so much work to be done to help small businesses, I will continue to articulate the need to the incoming Biden administration.”


43North President Colleen Heidinger said, “43North is pleased to deliver this comprehensive report, concluding our work on the Erie County Back to Business Grant program. We’re proud of the work done by our team, partners and volunteers to support small businesses during an unprecedented global pandemic, executing and completing this critical program under tight time constraints and the utmost diligence.”


1,399 businesses in 60 Erie County zip codes were ultimately awarded funding totaling approximately $19.2 million:


  • ·         80% of grantees had lost more than 25% of their annual revenue due to COVID at the time of their application;
  • ·         35% had lost more than 50% of their annual revenue;
  • ·         43% of awardees did not receive any PPP relief funding;
  • ·          59% of grant recipients are women-owned businesses;
  • ·         47% of grant recipients are located in distressed or highly-distressed zip codes; and
  • ·         30% of grantees are minority-owned businesses.


“With national and local evidence mounting on the impacts of COVID-19 on small businesses, including the shortcomings of PPP, the areas of greatest need clearly emerged and the Back to Business grant program was developed to address them,” Poloncarz added. “Minority- and women-owned businesses, businesses that were located in distressed and highly-distressed zip codes, those that lost revenue, employment, production and inventory but did  not receive any or limited amounts of PPP, and those in negatively impacted industries were given priority.”


The most negatively affected industries received the greatest number of awards. Restaurants and food service establishments received the highest number of grants with 271, while 208 grants were awarded to salons, spas, nail salons and barber shops. Consumer goods and retail businesses received 165 grants, professional services companies received 119, and gyms and fitness studios rounded out the top five grantee businesses with 88. A complete list of business receiving grants can be read in the report.


Grant amounts from $2,500 to $45,000 were determined by the business’s number of full-time equivalent (“FTE”) jobs and overall revenue. To be eligible to apply, companies were required to:


  • ·         be a for-profit business, formally established and in continuous operation since at least October 2019;
  • ·         be based in Erie County;
  • ·         have generated less than $7.5 million in revenue but more than $10K over the course of 2019;
  • ·         have fifty or fewer W-2 based FTEs;
  • ·         be current on their state, local and federal taxes; and
  • ·         provide evidence of a significant loss of revenue, and a reduced level of production, sales, employment or service due to COVID.


Poloncarz concluded, “While this program provided some relief for local small businesses, more needs to be done. Local government has the greatest proximity to businesses and families in need, and understands the challenges facing them, but local government does not have the resources necessary to help our residents and business owners rebound from the toll COVID-19 has taken on their lives. We must continue to urgently advocate with federal officials for more resources.”



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