City Council expands access to Entrepreneurship Support Program Grant


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th). City Council expanded access to an entrepreneurship grant program Monday to support small businesses through the pandemic.

Maia Spoto, Assistant City Editor

Evanston City Council expanded access to the Entrepreneurship Support Program Grant in a Monday vote, as many of Evanston’s small businesses operate without emergency funding.

The $50,000 grant, which helps businesses through startup and initial growth phases, will assist local businesses that have operated for at least a year before March 17. The emergency expansion now includes coverage for payroll, rent and utility expenses. It also removes applicant requirements involving entrepreneurship training certificates and business plans.

“Many of our microbusinesses do not qualify for (the Payment Protection Program), and … traditional bank financing grants are limited,” Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said. “This would be a nice and nimble way that we can serve our micro-businesses that are often excluded.”

The city redistributed $100,000 in workforce development funds to support micro-loans for small business through Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development in an April 13 meeting. Rue Simmons said the partnership with LEND was effective, but local businesses continue to have substantial needs.

While $50,000 was allocated for the grant at the start of the year, the city has yet to spend any of the funding.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th), who voted against the expansion, said he doesn’t consider the grant program a priority item when the city has furloughed many of its employees with the potential for future layoffs.

“I understand this was set aside at the beginning of the year, but the world’s changed between the time that it was set aside and now,” Suffredin said. “Could this be better utilized paying public safety, or roads, or any of the basic community services that we’re expected to provide and legally obligated to do?”

In response, Rue Simmons said small businesses will likely rely more on the city’s social service assistance in the future without access to grant funding. Most of the businesses applying for the grant, Rue Simmons said, will likely be low- to moderate- income. She said these businesses are facing an “emergency” as they operate on thin margins.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said she doesn’t think the grant will single-handedly save small businesses, but it’s still necessary because many qualifying businesses aren’t currently receiving support from other sources.

Fleming said she also hopes the majority of grant recipients will be Evanston residents to help maximize employment in the city.

The grant doesn’t require businesses to hire from the Evanston community, but Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the Economic Development Committee considers local hiring practices when reviewing applications.

Braithwhite said it’s important to strengthen local businesses so they can continue supporting Evanston when the economy reopens.

“When we went through our last recession, it was the larger corporations that were laying people off,” Braithwhite said. “It was really our small business community that helped us get out of the recession, because they were hiring. I think now is the right time to return that investment.”

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