DEARBORN — Hosted by City Council President Susan Dabaja, the bi-weekly COVID-19 forum discussed the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses.
She was joined by City Councilman David Bazzy, Wayne County Economic Development Director Khalil Rahal and Dearborn Economic Development Director Jeff Watson.
Watson said that the pandemic has had a significant impact on Dearborn.
“We want to try to provide additional capacity for restaurants to be able to serve diners,” he said. “We want to help by providing tents, lights, heaters, tables, chairs, anything that could help provide an outdoor dining option.”
The City Council had passed a resolution in December to provide $200,000 for this specifically.
“We are hoping that outdoor dining would no longer be just a warm weather activity,” he said. “We want to help our restaurants get to have this option year round.”
Rahal said that Wayne County has been more aggressive in providing relief for small businesses than most counties in the country.
“We are talking somewhere between $80-90 million,” he said. ”$50 million of that came in a small business grant. We also received about $19 million, we put out $500 debit cards out to about 12,000 residents and put out over two million masks.”
Bazzy said that he thinks they need to figure out a way to get the community to get out.
“In May and June, I think we will still be where we are at with limited capacities,” he said. “We don’t know where the numbers will be. As someone who had COVID who did everything right, masking, hand-washing and social distancing is the key in trying to reduce the virus. And as we start to get people, when the weather changes, we still want to do all that and yet have people eat at restaurants.”
Watson said that $1.2 million of the CARES Act money will be designated to small businesses in grants ranging from $2,500 to $15,000.
“A small business with 50 or less employees can apply,” he said. “Application process will begin next week through the city’s website. It will be an easy application, but because it’s federal dollars there will be more background information required.”
The grants will be released on a first-come, first-served basis with the goal of distributing grants within a few days of receiving the application.
Watson said that businesses that previously received grants are allowed to apply again.
“They must be small businesses,” he said. “They’ll have to provide prior year taxes and financial information; they need to demonstrate that they are using the grant to retain an employee or hire; the grant can also be used for rent, utilities and delivery costs.”
Rahal said that the utilization of dining igloos have been well received.
“It doesn’t work for every business,” he said. “We helped municipalities revise their ordinances to block off parking lots and some roads to allow for outdoor dining capacities. The igloos are relatively well received.”
Bazzy said that he believes some of the pandemic changes are permanent.
“The pandemic has changed things,” he said. “Nobody knows what’s on the other side, but the importance of social networking and the need to be with people is natural. So if we can make a safe space during the pandemic and keep it safe post-pandemic, I think people will be more comfortable.”
Rahal said that the number one thing people can do to help small businesses is to keep the numbers down.
“Until we get a handle on the virus or get the numbers to be nonexistent, the economy won’t be anything like it was last February or last spring,” he said. “The number one thing that you can do to help small businesses, the most important thing we can do to help the economy is keep the numbers down, be vigilant. That’s the most impactful.”
Dabaja said that the forum members understand that times are hard, but she wants the community to know that they are listening.
“All I will say is that you have four individuals up here that have been hearing and listening,” she said. “We know that small business owners are frustrated and this has been a most challenging and difficult time aside from the health component that’s involved with this pandemic, the financial struggles that a lot of people are facing. We understand and we feel that frustration and we share the frustration and we are doing everything in our power to get the money that is being handed out, whether it’s federal or state or county governments, out to you.”