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SBA establishes $100M competitive grant program

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A program recently launched by the U.S. Small Business Administration will utilize community partnerships to assist the country’s smallest and most underserved businesses by distributing $100 million in grants.

The Community Navigator Pilot Program, established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will utilize a “hub and spoke” approach, said Ram Basnet, manager of the SBA’s Springfield branch.

“The hubs are going to apply, but their application package will identify spokes,” Basnet said. “The hubs are the central organizations, and the spokes are local organizations in the community.”

Under the model, hub organizations would design and offer small-business assistance programming with the aid of spoke organizations. The goal is to reach small, rural businesses that have been underserved and to boost equity in access to services, Basnet said.

“We have seen that previous rounds of economic relief last year helped many small businesses stay afloat. But too many minority-owned businesses and rural businesses found themselves at the end of the line while larger, well-connected businesses accessed programs right away,” Basnet said. “It’s important that the program will strengthen outreach to underserved businesses by partnering with organizations with deep roots in their communities.”

Eligible organizations include nonprofits, economic development organizations, Native American tribal organizations and SBA resource partners, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and Veterans Business Outreach Centers, as well as state, county, municipal or rural governments.

Organizations must have been in operation for at least two years.

Basnet said several area organizations have reached out to gather more information about the program since it was launched on May 25, but he could not confirm if any had applied.

Lyle Foster, the grants administrator for the Greene County CARES Act Relief Fund, said the county is interested in the program, and he has been contacting other organizations in the region, including the city of Springfield.

“I think we’re trying to stay open to see if there is interest and what the roles would be,” Foster said, noting no decision has been made regarding application to the program.

Through his work with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed last year, Foster said he has seen the need for further aid in the region.

“I felt like there were a lot of smaller businesses that would really need the kind of opportunity that Community Navigator program could bring for our community,” Foster said.

“It would address a really important need in our community.”

Foster said he knew of some small businesses unable to apply for CARES Act relief funds because they didn’t meet certain qualifications.

“I see this as a critical opportunity to develop infrastructure so they can apply for other opportunities that come,” Foster said.

“I also think it can help businesses become more successful because COVID and a number of other things are providing a lot of headwinds for small businesses.”

Competitive grants will be awarded for a two-year performance period, determined via three tiers of applicants. The first tier would award grants up to $5 million for hub organizations working in at least five markets in other states, with a total service population over 500,000.

Organizations in the second tier must focus on serving a specific region, state or municipality with a service population of at least 500,000; they’re eligible for up to $2.5 million.

Groups in the third tier are eligible for up to $1 million and must focus on a region, municipality, city, tribal community or rural community with a service population under 500,000. Basnet said most organizations in southwest Missouri would fall under the third tier.

Applications will include an outline of partnership spoke programs and a hub-to-spoke funding distribution budget.

Applications are open until July 12.

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