Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative Launches $500,000 Small Business Relief Fund for African American Businesses

Staff Report From Metro Atlanta CEO

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

Seeking to offer support and financial stability to small businesses in Atlanta that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative (AWBI) today announced it has launched the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. The program will make $500,000 in grants and forgivable loans available to qualified African American businesses in Southwest, Southeast, and Northwest Atlanta.

According to AWBI, the resources will be distributed in three ways: as general operating support grants for nonprofits supporting the black business community; as grants for community-based small businesses, as well as forgivable loans to small businesses that can also serve as a vehicle to establish business credit for those who are able to pay off the loan. Since the COVID-19 crisis hit Atlanta, AWBI has already provided support to 15 small businesses across the city including Local Green, a Westside Atlanta restaurant focused on reducing health disparities in underserved populations by providing healthier food choices to communities who need it most.

“This grant has come at such a critical time, allowing us to rehire staff that were laid off, expand our catering and food truck services, accept more online/mobile orders, as well as other changes we need to make in order to adapt to these times,” said Local Green Founder and Owner Zachary Wallace. “I am more confident than ever that we'll get through this time.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative and disproportionate impact on small businesses throughout the city of Atlanta. Businesses are grappling with a loss of sales, fewer customers, and the risk of laying off employees. These challenges can have devastating effects as many small businesses provide employment to local residents and offer products and services in communities often ignored by national retailers. Black-owned businesses, in particular, are likely to feel the devastating effects of COVID-19 more severely and likely for a longer period of time.

“More than half of businesses owned by people of color have zero to 10 days of working capital and many of the types of community-based black-owned businesses -- professional services, barber shops, beauty salons, and restaurants -- are more vulnerable to the pandemic,” explained McLawhorn Ryan. “Moreover, with black-owned businesses significantly lagging behind white-owned businesses in regards to business value, access to capital, and access to technical expertise, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic loss facing businesses of color will have exponential financial impacts on families and communities throughout the city. The goal of the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund is to help get resources to the businesses and organizations that need them the most.”

Thanks to critical support from the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Recovery and Response Fund, a partnership between the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta, and more recently, support from The Arthur M. Blank Foundation, AWBI was able to extend the fund to even more community-based small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

“The support from the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund was instrumental in launching the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund,” said AWBI executive director Latresa McLawhorn Ryan. “It will allow us to provide immediate support to more than 45 Black-owned small businesses and nonprofit organizations in some of the hardest hit and under-resourced communities in Atlanta.”    

AWBI is also leading a coordinated, inclusive effort to understand the challenges and opportunities businesses, especially businesses owned by people of color, are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 virus. Partnering with Georgia Watch, Georgia Micro Enterprise Network and Uhuru Concepts, AWBI surveyed 600 businesses across the city in order to quickly understand needs and mobilize resources during this difficult period. Results of the survey indicated that the greatest needs for small businesses include funding to cover rent, payroll and technical assistance for the next 1-3 months. Survey results informed the grant criteria for AWBI’s first round of funding which included grants ranging from $2,500 - $25,000. A second round of support will be distributed as additional funds become available. Additionally, AWBI will offer a forgivable loan program in July.

“We are delighted to partner with The Arthur M. Blank Foundation. Because of its generous support, we will be able to support up to an additional 8-10 community-based small businesses during our second round of grant funding,” said McLawhorn Ryan.

Based on initial survey results, AWBI projects community-based small businesses in the communities it serves will need at least $3 million of dedicated support for direct capital and technical assistance to begin to respond to the effects of this crisis in earnest.

AWBI has also created a COVID-19 Small Business Resource List which compiles known funding and technical assistance resources available to the small business community.