By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Southborough/Marlborough – Local entrepreneurs hurt by COVID-19 got much needed good news late last month in the form of a $4.95 million grant.
A collaborative application spearheaded by Ashland’s town government won this money for small businesses in Southborough, Marlborough, and 20 other area communities. Earmarked specifically for “microenterprises” with five or fewer employees, the money is a welcome lifeline.
“Many of these micro-enterprises had to completely shut down due to the pandemic,” Southborough Economic Development Committee Coordinator Marijke Munsiff said. “They have been without income for many months but often still have to continue to pay rent and other costs. So, they are really in a very tough spot.”
When the coronavirus hit in mid-March, local small businesses did, of course, close alongside the major box stores and malls of the region.
Roughly five months later, some storefronts are reopening with financial scars. Others, like Marlborough’s beloved Joy Asia restaurant, have folded altogether.
Local business advocacy groups recognized all this damage from within the coronavirus lockdown. Thus, when the federal government announced a new block grant opportunity, regional agencies reached out to bring towns like Southborough and Marlborough into a group application for funding.
“[We] researched and determined the number of microenterprises that could be eligible for this grant in Southborough and submitted this and other required information for the application.” Munsiff explained of her group’s efforts.
The region won the money, and the overall $4.95 million lump sum has already been split up.
Southborough is set to take in $204,000. Marlborough, meanwhile, is getting $280,000. From there, though, that cash is stuck in limbo as both communities wait for officials in Ashland and at the state level to develop an application process for individual businesses.
As a result, local leaders are split on their next steps.
“We, quite simply, don’t have the information,” Marlborough Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Meredith Harris said.
Waiting on that application, Harris said her group has avoided promoting the newly won grant.
“We’ve been trying to let it fly under the radar until we have more information for people,” she said. “We would like to see what it entails before people start looking too far into it.”
In Southborough, meanwhile, Munsiff’s office has taken a different route.
Microenterprises, Munsiff said, are often some of the hardest businesses for groups like hers to reach. Thus, she said swift outreach is crucial.
“The town has a good idea of the many companies that make up the diverse Southborough business community,” she said. “However, there are always a few small businesses and entrepreneurs that are relatively new or operate from home, so they are less visible. We want every single business that meets the requirements, to apply and benefit from this grant opportunity.”
Regardless of their differing communications strategies, community leaders agree on the value of such a large grant.
“Our businesses are struggling,” Harris said. “So, any funding that we can bring back and give to the business community right now is hugely helpful.”
Projecting a possible timeline, Munsiff said she anticipates an online application becoming available to businesses by the end of this month.
Once that happens, business owners in each of the 23 communities included in this regional grant will be able to apply for up to $10,000, each, to be drawn from their town’s share.