The Ottawa County Improvement Corporation (OCIC) has launched the Regional Incubator for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship (RISE) Small Business Innovation Grant program. According to early reports, that funding in October 2020 has already begun reaping rewards for the small business community around Ottawa County.
The grants had focused on assisting existing Ottawa County entrepreneurs help grow their businesses, including a variety of innovative and strategic investments to thrive and adapt despite the Covid-19 pandemic that has devastated the local economy.
Several businesses who were recipients of the grant program shared feedback with OCIC officials.
“We are a family-owned and operated food service business specializing in barbecue in Ottawa County,” said LuAnne Pitts, owner of Bar-B-Que Traveler in LaCarne. “My father started the business in 1982, and my husband Duepree and I have been helping operate it since 2001.
“Due to COVID-19, we lost two-thirds of our yearly revenue. Large gatherings such as weddings, graduation parties, and fundraiser events came to a halt. Our business felt a major impact by the pandemic.”
With the funds from the RISE Grant Program, Bar-B-Que Traveler is planning to turn one of its delivery trucks into a food truck, said Pitts. They also plan to upgrade their website to reflect the new aspects of their business, helping them to rebuild and provide the community with something new while still producing their popular products.
Put-in-Bay Watercraft Rental took advantage of the grant program to enhance its business in Put-in-Bay.
“The traffic to the island was cut by over 50% and, while we tried everything we could to provide safe and fun family activities, people simply stayed away from the island once the bars and restaurants closed,” said owner Bob Gatewood. “Since our online reservations were so slow, we chose to stop taking reservations online altogether.
“This coming summer, we plan to purchase GPS units for our kayaks so staff can start allowing customers to leave our normal ‘in-sight’ riding area. This will allow customers to check out areas that they normally wouldn’t be able to, including the Benson Ford Shiphouse and the South Bass Island Lighthouse.
“It is also a great safety feature for our customers,” said Gatewood. “If someone does get lost, our staff can pinpoint exactly where they are and we can quickly respond.”
The impact the RISE Grant had on a local eatery in Elmore has been no different.
“Our cafe was closed from mid-March until the first week of June. Upon re-opening we limited our hours by 50% and then slowly expanded our hours,” said Kathy Barbee, Chair of the Engaging Opportunities Foundation. Christy’s Corner Café is a non-profit of the Engaging Opportunities Foundation, which mentors the coffee shop. The cafe was inspired and named after Kathy’s sister, Christy, who was born with Down Syndrome.
The business strives to commemorate Christy’s life by providing encouragement and support in the form of successful employment opportunities for individuals with special needs.
“The decrease in hours was directly related to the decrease in overall business due to the Covid-19 pandemic and reflects an effort of management to protect our employees who are or have a family member that is immunocompromised,” said Barbee.
For many businesses aided by a RISE Grant, financial impacts included the difficulty in obtaining necessary equipment, such as gloves.
“The plan we have developed allows us to expand our reach into the evening without having to expand our hours. Our customers will be able to spend more time with their families in the safety of their home while enjoying a delicious pre-made meal from Christy’s Corner Café,” she said. “By having an efficient, functioning, and improved freezer unit that will allow us to store and display these take-and-bake meal opportunities, we can make this plan happen. Along with the meals, we will also be able to display our popular cookie ice cream sandwiches and other new ice cream menu items.
“With the increased cost of so many of our necessary products related to the pandemic, this will help keep our employees working, allow us to provide a service to our community and hopefully, our businesses can re-open safely and give us an opportunity to serve more customers.”
In December 2020, the RISE Grant Program awarded $61,985 in funding to 23 small businesses in pursuit of sustainability and growth with special consideration for those impacted by the recent public health emergency. The program is a collaborative initiative of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation and the Ottawa County Community Foundation. It is made possible by a generous grant from Burton D. Morgan Foundation. For more information about the RISE Small Business Innovation Grant, visit www.ocic.biz/rise-grant-program.