Repost from Buffalo Business First

The message has been plastered on buses, billboards and the airwaves.

Erie County businesses heeded its call.

A shade more than 5,000 small businesses applied for Erie County’s Back to Business relief program, which is seeking to award $20 million in grants this month.

Erie County turned to 43North to administer the federally funded program, which exists to help small businesses with 50 or fewer employees survive the Covid-19 pandemic. The application period closed this week.

A consortium of 43North partners – including personnel from M&T Bank, Ernst and Young and the Buffalo Urban League – will now be reviewing the application, a process that includes background checks. The goal is to get money into the hands of local small business owners around Thanksgiving.

“This is targeted toward businesses first who didn’t get (a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program), who are minority-owned and in distressed neighborhoods,” said Colleen Heidinger, 43North president. “They can use it to bring back part-time employees, buy up inventory before the holidays and invest in marketing. It can also be spent to cover losses from earlier in the year.”

43North board member William Maggio said the goal isn’t necessarily to save every business – in fact, that may be impossible. Much like the PPP program, it is instead intended to prevent as many business failures as possible.

43North is a state-funded nonprofit dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in Buffalo, mainly through its annual business plan competition. The competition was postponed this year for logistical and financial reasons. 43North has participated in small business initiatives before, most notably the Ignite Buffalo competition in 2018, where $1 million in grants were awarded to 27 local small businesses. Within a year, those businesses had created 100 jobs and saw revenues increase 27%.

“Erie County approached 43North so that we could help them administer a program that was going to get the funds out there in a meaningful and impactful way,” said Maura Devlin, vice president of marketing strategy. “This was an innovative way for us to serve the community that needs these resources right now.”