Small businesses are the lifeblood of local communities. Collectively, small businesses help to create a sense of place and are an indispensable contributor to a vibrant local economy.
The owners, operators and employees of these establishments are not a group of largely anonymous individuals situated in a distant locale and with whom your only interaction occurs online. They are a part of the fabric of our communities; owned or staffed by our neighbors, friends and family members.
That’s why the Flint & Genesee Chamber, in partnership with the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance and Explore Flint & Genesee, has designated May as Flint & Genesee Small Business Month. The observance is modeled on National Small Business Week – established by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) more than 50 years ago – and our way to acknowledge the critical contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners to Genesee County’s economy and overall wellbeing.
Small businesses run the gamut, including restaurants and bars, lodging providers, event venues and movie theaters, indoor recreation facilities, gyms and fitness centers, and host of retail shops. And don’t forget the professional and personal services; electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics; auto dealerships; and small manufacturers and tooling shops.
According to the most recent data from the SBA, small business made up more than 99.6 percent of Michigan’s businesses and employ approximately 1.9 million individuals. In Genesee County, there are 17,974 businesses in Genesee County with 500 or fewer employees, which meets the SBA’s definition of a small business. In fact, the vast majority of Genesee County’s small businesses – more 16,000, or 90 percent – have 10 or fewer employees.
Some of these local businesses are still struggling with challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While our organization continues to identify opportunities to aid small businesses, I am proud that we have been able to provide a measure of financial relief to many that are struggling.
In the past year, the Flint & Genesee Group
– with the generous support of partners like the Consumers Energy Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ruth Mott Foundation and Chase – raised $570,000 for the Restart Flint & Genesee Small Business Recovery Program. The program enabled us to provide critical financial assistance in the form of grants to 144 small businesses in our community. Our organization also facilitated grant programs from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and General Motors that awarded 447 grants totaling more than $3.3 million to local small businesses.
Support for small businesses is a priority of the Flint & Genesee Group, as executed through the strategic efforts of our divisions (Flint & Genesee Chamber, Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, Flint & Genesee Education & Talent and Explore Flint & Genesee). Whether it’s providing access to financial resources, talent connection services or professional development opportunities, we strive to assist and promote our local business owners and entrepreneurs.
To learn more about how we are celebrating small business month, please visit our dedicated webpage at flintandgenesee.org/flintgenesee small-business-month. It includes profiles of local small business owners, a calendar of events, and a social media toolkit for business owners and patrons.
You can join us in celebrating our small business community by shopping locally and reminding others to do the same. Also, remember to use the hashtag #SupportFlintGenesee on your social media accounts to help spread the word.
Lastly, Flint & Genesee Small Business Month dovetails with the ongoing COVID recovery efforts. With 55 percent of Michigan residents having received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as of May 10, we are well on the way toward reducing restrictions on in-person business and social interactions.
But we must remain vigilant. So, I urge residents to get inoculated with the safe and effective COVID vaccine as soon as possible. The sooner we can get vaccinated, the sooner businesses can fully resume normal operations. And that would certainly be something to celebrate.
Tim Herman is CEO of the Flint & Genesee Group.