Flint and Genesee Economic Alliance aims to help businesses after analysis shows COVID-19 impact

FLINT, MI — Small businesses in Genesee County faced financial obstacles, embraced “shop local” initiatives and struggled with getting access to capital over the last year, according to the 2021 Genesee County Small Business Analysis.

The Flint and Genesee Economic Alliance gathered input from 350 small businesses that responded to the Genesee County Small Business Landscape Survey, conducted by Ann Arbor-based research firm EntryPoint.

The report’s findings, released in June, shows diversifying Genesee County’s economy by creating an entrepreneurial support system that fosters networks and cultivates strong leaders will be critical to the region’s long-term sustainability.

As well as improving access to capital or providing direct financial support is the best way for policymakers and economic development organizations to help locally owned and operated enterprises succeed, business owners said in the survey.

To see the full report, visit here.

Tyler Rossmaessler, executive director of the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, told MLive-The Flint Journal that the organization went into “emergency crisis management” mode during the pandemic, working to get information and money out to small businesses.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can help disadvantaged businesses – women-owned, minority-owned businesses, how do we connect them to more customers,” Rossmaessler asked, adding the alliance doesn’t immediately have an answer to the dilemma, but it’s one of the next steps after the analysis.

Respondents completed a 7-minute questionnaire designed to gauge the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the local marketplace.

EntryPoint also integrated economic and business data from other sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and CB Insights, and conducted interviews with several respondents for more detailed knowledge of the county’s small business community, which consists of more than 3,000 businesses, per the Flint and Genesee Economic Alliance.

Other key findings in the analysis report show statistics such as net income for personal care businesses was down 100 percent in 2020 – the largest decrease in income of any sector followed by businesses in the art, entertainment and recreation, and construction sectors.

Also, 83 percent of BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) businesses in Genesee County are less than 15 years old. Over half of these companies are in their first five years of business, the report shows.

And prior to the pandemic, according to the analysis’ results, the most common sources of capital historically accessed by small businesses in Genesee County were friends and family, high net-worth individuals, and foundation/corporate grants.

Ebonie Gipson, business coach and CEO of I’m Building Something Consulting LLC, was able to help businesses during the last year think outside the box to keep local small businesses afloat.

Gipson said the main challenges for business owners was access to funding and figuring out how to pivot in order to keep up with the challenges during the pandemic.

“Fortunately, I was able to work with some businesses to switch from being a brick and mortar service provider to creating products that their customers, who would normally sit in their chairs and get a service in person, creating products that their customers and consumers could purchase online,” Gipson explained.

For some business owners, there was a challenge when it came to accessing technology and developing a strategy to move forward, she noted.

Gipson also owns an online t-shirt line, Flint Small Business Saturday and plans to release a stationary products line.

Flint Small Business Saturday takes place the weekend following Thanksgiving. The event provides a marketplace for small businesses and entrepreneurs to have some visibility and exposure in the community.

Gipson, a Flint native, has also had to pivot during the pandemic with running her businesses by utilizing technology. The small business event switched to a virtual model this past winter, where businesses were able to be highlighted and allowed consumers to support them on that format.

“There are strides being made,” Gipson said of the obstacles being removed for small business owners. “I think we have a lot of work to do. It’s good to see the city coming together to acknowledge that these obstacles and barriers indeed exist and having ownership over making sure that we see them changed.

“I think we have a long way to go, but creating awareness is the first step and the next step is also putting action to awareness, which is happening. I also think that we need to continue to understand the voice of the community.”

In addition to the efforts from the Flint and Genesee Economic Alliance, the city of Flint is highlighting small businesses located in the city as part of a “Enjoy. Shop. Love. Flint – Support small businesses” initiative.

Through the city’s Department of Economic Development, the city of Flint works to engage, support, and promote local businesses. This initiative gives a glimpse at the vast variety of small businesses in Flint while also bringing awareness to the economic growth and potential in the city, according to a news release from the city of Flint.

The initiative will highlight a diverse cross section of businesses and promote them through a collection of photos, videos and personal testimonials on the City of Flint’s social media accounts and the Economic Development Department’s webpage.

“Flint is home to many entrepreneurs and small businesses that have chosen to grow in our amazing city,” Mayor Sheldon Neeley said. “We know small businesses are the largest drivers of any local economy. We must continue to support their growth with loans and grants, financial literacy workshops and engagement opportunities with economic development partners.”

Read more on MLive:

New juice bar to ‘uplift you’ opening in Flint area this fall

Local Eats: Badawest Restaurant in Flint has a new owner, but recipes remain unchanged for Lebanese cuisine

‘No one comes in here unhappy’: New candy shop in Clio area to host grand opening celebration July 10