Small business boost: Michigan SBDC gets $100,000 grant

ISHPEMING — More help is on the way for employees displaced by the indefinite idle of the Empire Mine that began in August 2016.

The Michigan Small Business Development Center has received a $100,000 Federal Small Business Administration Portable Assistance Grant.

The three-year grant will provide assistance to displaced Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. employees, as well as existing small businesses affected by the loss of high-paying jobs in Marquette, Iron, Alger, Ontonagon, Dickinson, Delta, Schoolcraft and Baraga counties, according to an SBDC press release.

Hanna Burmeister, marketing manager for the MSBDC, said the grant, while not designated to provide direct funding to small businesses, will help not only with one-on-one consulting for individuals starting a small business, but will help existing businesses adapt to the loss of expendable income in the area by providing ways to expand their customer base and stay in business.

“The Michigan SBDC will develop a unique training series that covers the key areas of concern for the small brick-and-mortar businesses that have been affected and will continue to be affected in rural communities,” Burmeister said.

Using grant funds, SBDC will network with state and local partners to identify companies and individuals who would benefit from an estimated 1,000 hours of counseling and 24 training events under the program, the release states.

Burmeister said she expects 120 small businesses to benefit from the training events, which will include content on understanding financial positions, increasing revenue growth through web-stores and online sales, social media marketing, identifying potential in government contracting and understanding cyber security and implementing best practices.

According to the Michigan SBDC, the indefinite idle of the Empire Mine displaced 307 employees and resulted in an estimated $48.4 million annual payroll loss and total annual economic impact of $216 million.

Burmeister said a September 2016 survey of exiting employees conducted with the Pure Michigan Workforce Development Agency and Cleveland-Cliffs’ labor characteristics noted that 15 percent of those surveyed were interested in training that would help them start a small business.

The project will enable an experienced contractual consultant with marketing and public relations background to serve 75 individual clients, Burmeister said, providing in-depth analytical assistance — including financial and market planning.

In addition to the one-on-one consulting and financial and marketing analysis the SBDC will provide displaced mine workers with access to in-person and online training to help them successfully start and launch their own businesses, the release states.

“Using a common set of tools, practices, business education and approaches, displaced individuals who are interested in starting a business will be aided and local businesses that have been impacted by the loss of expendable income will be counseled,” the release states.

The Small Business Administration will issue over $1 million in Portable Assistance Grants in 2017, specifically targeting small businesses in areas affected by a recent economic downturn, according to the SBA website.

Applicants like the Michigan SBDC “develop portable assistance programs to support the start up and sustainability of small business concerns in communities that are economically challenged as a result of a business or government facility downsizing or closing, which has resulted in the loss of jobs or small business instability,” the SBA website states.

Burmeister said the SBDC focused on several counties in its grant proposal because the economic impact of the Empire Mine closure has been felt across the Upper Peninsula.

“Our plan is to rejuvenate those counties so that they can be economically sustainable, through supporting former mine workers in opening their own businesses, and strengthening existing area businesses,” Burmeister said.

In 2016, the Upper Peninsula Region SBDC provided one-on-one counseling to 665 businesses, Burmeister said, and the organization as a whole provided counseling to 5,532 businesses across the state.

Keith Brophy, state director of the Michigan SBDC, said his organization is excited to implement the portable assistance program and help those impacted by the mine closure.

“Small business is the heart of a community,” Brophy said. “And our programs are ready to assist them in every way possible to keep them sustainable.”

More information on the SBDC can be found at sdbcmichigan.org; by phone at 616-331-7480; or sending an email to SBDCMichigan@gvsu.edu.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.