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Businesses in Birmingham Still Dealing with Impact of COVID to Get Funding From City, Non-Profit

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From left: Councilors Crystal Smitherman and LaTonya Tate; Council President Pro Tem Wardine Alexander; Lyord Watson, Founder and CEO of the Penny Foundation, Councilor Clinton Woods and Council President Darrell O'Quinn. (PROVIDED)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times

Many small businesses in Birmingham are still dealing with the negative economic effects of the COVID pandemic. But thanks to a partnership with the City of Birmingham and the Penny Foundation, those businesses will be eligible to apply for grant dollars through the Penny Foundation’s 2024 Future Forward Grant Cycle.

The Penny Foundation is a non-profit focused on eliminating economic inequality in the Black community.

On Tuesday, Lyord Watson, Founder and CEO of the Penny Foundation, was joined Tuesday by Council President Darrell O’Quinn; President Pro Tem Wardine Alexander; and Councilors Clinton Woods; Crystal Smitherman; and LaTonya Tate.

Those councilors contributed $27,500 from their office’s American Rescue Plan Act funding to add into the financial pool for grant dollars.

“Microbusinesses, entrepreneurs, creatives, small businesses – we recognize these are the businesses which are the fiber of the community,” said Watson. “And if we’re going to have healthy, sustainable communities, we are going to have to have healthy, sustainable, small businesses.”

This is the eighth cycle of the Future Forward Grant. The foundation will provide more than 11 business grants per district in contributions of $1,000 and $2,500 to each organization.

Proposed use of the grants include: retain employees; mortgage, rent, utilities; design services for future building improvements and developments; building improvements and developments; business Capacity Building – Adaptation and other operating costs.

“This is an opportunity to effectively use these dollars that we’ve been provided, to put them back into the community and to give this uplift to businesses,” said Alexander.

Smitherman, also a small business owner, said the timing of this grant application and award couldn’t be better.

“Small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy and the cornerstone of our city,” she said, “… especially at the start of the calendar year, this is the hardest and slowest time for small businesses.”

Woods added that the grant “is getting dollars and resources to the front line where they are needed … they “fill gaps, bring revenue, bring people and bring life into our communities,” he said.

The grant is a continuation of the city’s support for small businesses, O’Quinn said. “Things like equipment going down, pipes bursting, inability to find employees… most of these things happen. This is an effort to address those ongoing needs,” said the council president.

Tate added, “A lot of times when people are applying for loans or any type of grant funding, the process has been so long and it tends to scare people off. So to know it’s a simple process, is a win-win for those seeking these opportunities to scale up,” she said.

Eligible business applicants must:

  • Own a small business with a valid business license in Birmingham’s District One, District Five, District Six, District Seven, or District Nine.
  • Be currently active and open for business, and able to show proof of operation before Feb. 15, 2020.
  • Agree to implement proposed services or upgrades within one month of the awarded grant.
  • Have fewer than 25 employees (micro-business or small business).
  • Agree to use an approved/licensed professional consultant and/or other identified professional service provider.
  • Stay in business for one year after receiving the grant or pay the appropriate pro rata share of the funds back to Penny Foundation.The application portal will be open from February 1st to the 15th. Award winners will be announced at a reception for Future Forward on February 29th. Business owners can apply at www.pennyfoundation.org/futureforward or for more information, visit www.futureforwardfund.org.