QC navigators ready to help businesses capture B2B grants

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) have announced another $175 million in grant funding is now available through the Back to Business (B2B) program. 

In addition, Moline’s Mercado on Fifth and Henry County are partnering to help Quad Cities area businesses who want to bid for a share of the latest round of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, according to Jim Kelly, Henry County economic development director.

The organizations “are the designated community navigators for these grants and can cut right to the chase to submit” applications, Mr. Kelly said in an email.

In addition to previous grants to businesses totaling nearly $1.5 billion since the onset of the pandemic, the latest ARPA-funded grants are designed to provide additional support for the hardest-hit sectors including restaurants (B2B Restaurants), hotels (B2B Hotels), and businesses or organizations in the creative arts sector (B2B Arts).

To provide hands-on support and raise awareness about the program, the state has mobilized a network of more than 100 community navigators across Illinois – including Mercado and Henry County locally – to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance in the hardest hit communities.

Community navigators will be hosting webinars and supporting prospective applicants to prepare before the application opens on Wednesday, April 5. This is in addition to available small business support available through Illinois’ network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs).

This first round of B2B grants provided more than 15,000 awards to businesses totaling $536 million, with 47% of grants awarded to minority-owned businesses. 

That’s a testament to the work of community navigators who helped reach more underserved businesses in minority and rural communities across the state, a news release from the governor’s office said.

By law, B2B Arts and B2B Restaurants grant award amounts will be determined by revenue declines, as reflected on tax returns, and funding for hotels will be allocated by number of rooms.

Applications are open from April 5 through May 10, and awards are expected to be made several weeks after the deadline date. All eligible applicants will receive a grant as long as the business meets eligibility requirements and submits proper documentation and attestations.

The program design is based on legislation establishing the Restaurant Employment and Stabilization Grant Program ($50 million), Hotel Jobs Recovery Grant Program ($75 million) and the Illinois Creative Recovery Grant program ($50 million). The funding is designed to offset losses and support job retention in the hardest-hit industries.

“Illinois’ businesses have made a strong recovery since the most difficult times of the pandemic and we’re proud to build upon that progress through additional support for hard-hit industries,” DCEO Director Kristin Richards said in the release. “Restaurants, hotels and creative arts are industries designed to bring people together, and with an additional $175 million we are investing in communities and supporting continued economic development.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, DCEO has allocated nearly $1.5 billion in pandemic-related support for businesses, including $536 million through B2B & BIG, $899 million in Child Care Restoration Grants (administered in partnership with DHS), $18.5 million in local CURE funding specifically allocated to businesses, $14 million in Emergency Hospitality Grants, and $3.5 million in BIG agriculture grants.

“In the three years since COVID-19 brought our state, our nation, and our world to a standstill, Illinois businesses have come back swinging — in part thanks to our Back to Business program,” Mr. Pritzker said. “My administration is committed to helping small business owners move past survival and onto long-term success — and this latest investment of $175 million in B2B grants does exactly that.”

In order to manage the expected high volume of applications in a timely manner, DCEO also has enlisted a program administrator – the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Community Development Fund (NCRC CDF) – to support the state with application review, provide technical portal support for applicants, manage the development of the application portal and provide support in processing payments.

“The impacts of the pandemic are far from over for small businesses and its aftermath continues to threaten their long-term success, especially for those owned by Black, Latino, and other underserved entrepreneurs,” said Marisa Calderon, executive director of NCRC CDF. “These grants will help to shore up small businesses, preserve what they have worked so hard to build, and save jobs in our communities.”

In addition to the local community navigators’ efforts, DCEO will be hosting statewide information kick-off sessions. Find a complete list here.

Mr. Kelly also urged Henry County leaders to share the governor’s announcement “with as many of the qualified businesses as possible quickly through all your communications channels.” These will include restaurants, motels and creative arts. 

Additional details on eligibility include:

  • For restaurant grants: Must be primarily operating as a properly licensed restaurant, tavern, brewpub, tasting room, taproom, caterer, brewery, microbrewery, winery, distillery, food truck or street vendor.
  • For hotel grants: Must be operating as a hotel, including but not limited to inns, motels, tourist homes or courts, lodging houses, rooming houses, retreat centers, conference centers, and hunting lodges.
  • For the arts: Must be operating in one of the following industries: independent live venue operators performing or presenting arts, arts education, museum and cultural heritage organization.

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