Wayne County has pulled all $32 million it promised for a fund that aims to help small businesses in southeastern Michigan communities, a partner in the project said Tuesday.
Wafa Dinaro, executive director of the New Economy Initiative, the philanthropic group that supports entrepreneurship and is a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, said she received notice Oct. 24 that Wayne County was canceling the partnership and all funding for the Wayne County Small Business Hub fund, which would have helped small business owners in such cities as Inkster, River Rouge, Ecorse and Romulus.
The partnership was announced by Dinaro and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans in June during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. The fund started as a $54 million investment that also included matches from several private partners. It now stands at $22 million.
The $32 million the county promised was to come from American Rescue Plan Act funds, which are government dollars devoted to COVID-19 relief, and the support was contingent on the Wayne County Commission approving the allocation. The Wayne County Commission office could not immediately be reached for comment.
When Dinaro received notice that Wayne County was out, she said she was “incredibly disappointed.”
“I mean, this is a $32 million infusion to underserved small businesses throughout the county,” Dinaro said Tuesday. “…I really want to see the county continue to be committed to small businesses, especially in those BIPOC communities and those underserved communities.”
Dinaro said no further information had been provided to explain the cancellation, beyond the letter.
Asked about the cancellation, Wayne County said an emailed statement Tuesday that it was due to a leadership change in county administration and other unnamed factors.
“Small business and nonprofit relief have remained a priority of Executive Evans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luz Meza, director of the Wayne County Economic Development Department, said in the statement. “The Evans administration has contributed more than $60 (million) in small business relief and remains committed to the ongoing support of small businesses.”
She continued: “During a change in leadership and as the process to develop our Small Business Hub went on, Wayne County leadership determined that it would be most beneficial to build direct relationships with stakeholders in this work.”
More:Michigan children without homes rarely enrolled in early learning programs
More:Taylor Swift books June 10 show at Detroit’s Ford Field as part of Eras Tour
The fund will move forward in its plans with the finances that it still has, Dinaro said. The funding will be dispersed to business support organizations who will then provide technical assistance to small businesses.
Dinaro said the program is still readjusting its plans based on the notice.
“NEI is looking at expanding into Wayne County,” Dinaro said. “We’re still incredibly committed to supporting those communities and supporting those business support organizations. It’s just going to look different now that we don’t have $32 million from the ARPA funds.” Dinaro said there are still plans to provide assistance in Inkster, Ecorse, River Rouge, a few communities in Downriver and Romulus.
“But we’re still working through what that’s going to look like,” she said. “But our footprint is going to have to be smaller, just because we’re working with less money.”
Just over $4 million has already been distributed to the business support organizations since the initial announcement, Dinaro said. The program is funded through 2025.
The fund still has support from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Ford Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, The Kresge Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, WK Kellogg Foundation and William Davidson Foundation.
Meza said: “We will continue to make small businesses a priority through the investment of ARPA funds in projects such as the Small Business Hub while continuously integrating input from our small business stakeholders. We strive to deliver a transparent process as we continue to make strides in economic development within Wayne County.”