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COVID-19 / Funding / Manufacturing / Municipal government / Small businesses

Baltimore’s new $5.5M fund aims to help small businesses reopen and redesign public spaces

The new initiative also includes $3.5 million for small business grants, and a reopening task force.

Making masks at UA Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Under Armour)

The City of Baltimore is rolling out a small business aid package focused on helping small businesses as they reopen post-pandemic.

The $5.5 million fund includes expansion of a program that provides funding for firms that make personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, as well as efforts to design public spaces to allow for social distancing, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said on Thursday.

The state has not removed stay-at-home orders or ended closures of nonessential businesses, as COVID-19 cases continue to expand by the hundreds each day. But absent a vaccine, it’s looking more and more like reopening will eventually happen with social distancing measures remaining in place.

So Thursday’s new funding, which will be administered by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), is launching with an eye toward the future. It’s designed to support small businesses that have struggled in the pandemic, and are looking to turn the lights back on in a different environment than when they closed.

“Businesses who had to close would need to staff up again and there may be further guidelines on how businesses could reopen in safe manner,” Young said. “The task force and fund was established to help businesses with resources needed to do so.”

Through the fund, the City will expand on the program that provided grants to local manufacturers who produced the much-needed PPE such as masks, hand sanitizer and gowns for medical and essential workers. The initial $50,000 program awarded nine grants to companies last week.

Going forward, the City will allocate $500,000 to provide additional grants, as well as buy PPE from local makers. In one example we’ve heard, City agencies purchased hand sanitizer made by the partnership of Mount Royal Soap Co., Charm City Meadworks and Waverly Color Company that came together in response to needs. Expanding the supply of PPE has been among the key requirements that Gov. Larry Hogan said will be necessary to reopen.

In another portion of the funding, $1.5 million is being allocated toward an effort to redesign public spaces to account for social distancing. The Neighborhood Business Reopening Initiative aims to create new designs around restaurant and retail, including on the streets, that take the public health recommendations of the time into account. This could include spaces such as parklets, or public signage.

The City is looking to tap into local design and creative talent, and BDC President Colin Tarbert said in an interview last week that the maker and design initiatives are opportunities for the City to lead.

“We have a very strong creative class in Baltimore city, and I think the idea of reimagining public space and even private spaces … to adapt to social distancing measures is an interesting opportunity for Baltimore’s creative class to come up with some solutions that other cities can adopt,” he said.

The fund also includes $3.5 million for grants to businesses in main streets and other commercial centers. Starting May 4, businesses will be able to apply for $15,000 grants to cover rent, payroll or purchasing PPE. There will be a specific set-aside for businesses that did not qualify for federal aid packages. Information about applying to the programs will be available at the Baltimore Together website maintained by BDC.

The reopening task force will be co-chaired by City Councilmember Eric Costello and recently appointed Downtown Partnership of Baltimore President Shelonda Stokes. Additional members weren’t announced on Thursday.

It’s the latest example of how the City’s economic development resources are being directed to help small businesses that are struggling amid the pandemic-caused economic downturn. Baltimore previously partnered with Goldman Sachs and Lendistry on a fund that sought to provide access to federal small business loans for underserved businesses (though the funding for the loan program is currently on hold awaiting federal re-up), and is playing an intake role in a technical assistance network for aid. Tarbert said the BDC also deferred payments from its existing loan customers for 90 days.

Companies: Baltimore Development Corporation / City of Baltimore
Series: Coronavirus

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