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Three things St. Petersburg small businesses need to do now to tap new federal funding

Margie Manning



Albert Lee, president and CEO, Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp.

Small businesses that missed out on the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program are likely to get a second chance, with Congress poised to approve a $480 billion coronavirus relief package today.

The measure includes about $310 billion for the PPP, set up to help small businesses that were struggling financially because of restrictions imposed in efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The first round of funding, about $349 billion, ran out quickly, in part because many companies were prepared to respond as soon as the applications were available, said Albert Lee, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp.

Lee was one of several speakers at a virtual town hall on racial equity and Covid-19 that was hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg on Tuesday. Other speakers on the economic response panel included St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin; Rev. Watson Haynes, president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League; Duggan Cooley, CEO of the Pinellas Community Foundation; and Gypsy Gallardo, CEO of One Community and The 2020 Plan.

During the town hall, Lee offered three ideas to help entrepreneurs tap the new federal funding.

Paperwork. “If you are not familiar with the documentation required for that program (PPP), you need to get familiar with it now. You don’t want to wait until the dollars are approved to do it,” Lee said.

Preparation. “You need to get your financial house in order. We’re talking about resiliency. We’ve been talking that for years, and that’s why we provide the technical assistance we provide so that in times like this you’re not just learning about what a financial statement is and how to prepare one, you’re not learning what an interim financial statement is, you have those things in place already so that you are able to respond.”

The Pinellas County Urban League’s Business Academy can assist businesses help put their records in order as well, Haynes said.

Relationships. Reach out to your banker. Although some offices are closed, many banks will still have the ability for you to make an appointment to come in and see your banker, Lee said.

“If I had been a been a lending officer at a bank, like I was for many years, one of the first things I would have done is call my best customers,” he said. “I’d have picked up the phone, called them and said, ‘Hey guys, here’s this program from SBA, you need to go ahead and get your application in.’ Why? Because as a banker I’m doing my job to take care of my customers. You want to be one of those people,” Lee said.

Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp. specializes in serving underserved markets and focuses on helping companies that typically need $50,000 or less, Lee said.

“We know that black and brown businesses start off undercapitalized. When you have start off undercapitalized you struggle from the beginning, When you have something like this, that’s  unprecedented and that you have no control over, but it triggers not just a health event, but an economic event, then obviously you would expect businesses that are traditionally underfunded and undercapitalized will struggle more than others and that has certainly been the case,” Lee said.


Tampa Bay BBIC is working with One Community and The 2020 Plan, Lee said.

Gypsy Gallardo

One Community partners have put together several Covid-19 resources, including a micro-grant program, which can be a bridge resource for people who don’t qualify for other funding, said Gallardo.

“We’re helping business owners get contracts to serve some of the critical supply shortages … And we ourselves, thanks to Foundation dollars and city dollars, are able to hire about 24 of our entrepreneurs who happen to be out of work right now to help meet the needs of the community and to help staff the  #InThisTogether vision, she said. “We’re able to at least stand in the gap in some small measure for a lot of our folks in the community who are suffering.”

The Pinellas Community Foundation has worked with United Way Suncoast, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and Allegany Franciscan Ministries to create the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund, Cooley said. It has nearly $1 million of funding assistance available to nonprofit 501(c) organizations and governmental agencies, according to a news release.

Duggan Cooley

“Part of what we’ve done collectively with those funders is not only listen to the community need but listen to public health experts and others who are helping to inform and shape the response,” Cooley said. “A lot of folks have talked about the vulnerabilities, the disparities in how this disease is impacting communities of color … So a major focus of our Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund is to focus on the most vulnerable in our community by race and socio-economic status.”

Early investments include:

• Funding to Pinellas County Human Services to retrofit shelter vans so drivers could safely transport patients who may have Covid-19 to medical appointments or the emergency room.

• Augmenting the ongoing digital equity project by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and the Pinellas Education Foundation, which provides access to high-speed internet and devices to students.

• A grant to New Visions of The Well to ramp up mental health services and transition to telemedicine.

Covid-19 will hit communities of color with a crippling force, Tomalin said. But she added that St. Petersburg has been preparing for a challenge like this for years by fighting generational poverty.

“The poverty rate among African Americans in St. Pete has decreased by more than 45 percent since 2014. African American median household income has grown by 72 percent in the same time period,” Tomalin said. “We were marching forward to inclusive prosperity before Covid-19 and when its terror recedes, we will pick up where we left off.”

A little over two weeks ago, St. Petersburg launched the $6.8 million Fighting Chance Fund to help small businesses and individuals financially impacted by Covid-19. Tomalin said the city is compiling metrics to track who has received funding. The fund also is collecting donations for a second phase through the Pinellas Community Foundation.

Available resources

Click here, here and here for The 2020 Plan and One Community’s Covid-19 resources.

Click here to apply or donate to the Pinellas Community Foundation’s Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund.

Click here for information about qualifications for the Fighting Chance Fund and click here to donate to the fund.

Click here for more information on the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp.

Click here for more information on the Pinellas County Urban League.

Click here for more information on the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

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