The Gap Becomes a Chasm

If you really believed black lives matter, you might get off your ass and try getting some of your $25 million fund to black business owners that need help.

As I was filling out a grant application form the other day, the same one for the fourth time (isn’t there an adage about doing the same thing over and over, somehow thinking the outcome will be different?), I got to the final question, the one every grant includes, the one where they want to know what your business does and has done for the community, especially during covid.

I feel like this particular form, from LISC, whatever that might be, may have offered up to 1,000 words for me to wax about my business. While that’s roughly what I put into my daily blog, I always fall well short in these applications. And this time I made less effort than usual.

Whatever LISC is, it’s been offering monthly grants in partnership with large corporations, frequently Lowe’s. These grants are intended for the usual small businesses, those run by women, minorities, veterans, disabled folks — and those in rural areas. But the application, which I have filled out in each of four discrete months, never asks anything about ruralness, not even this time, when the grants are specifically marked for businesses operating in an area with less than 50,000 people.

These are long-shot grants, long shots taken in the dark. The organization doesn’t tell you how many grants are on offer, and it never follows up like some of the other places do to tell you about the wonderful companies that did receive the awards. But at least they provide a deadline: “We will contact the finalists by Oct. 16.” When I don’t hear from by the deadline, I know we’re not even a finalist, never mind getting the grant.

But I keep trying, sort of. I got to that question once again of what fabulous things we’re doing for our community and wondered, Are only businesses that do fabulous things for their community worth saving? The main thing any business does for a community is provide jobs.

Maybe not many jobs, maybe just one, for the business owner. Maybe not great-paying jobs. Maybe jobs without a lot of benefits. But they are jobs, which is what I put in my abbreviated answer, right before I shamelessly, once again, exploited the diversity of our staff in a move that has yet to impress a single grantor.

I feel like most businesses make community donations, both in-kind and monetary. It’s hard not to, when people come in with their hand out on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Once I had a mother get very angry at me when I declined her request to give them 100 shirts for a fund-raiser for her injured daughter. As I tried to tell her, although she wasn’t listening, hers was the fourth request in three days. No matter how compelling the need is, the funds are finite.

And right now the funds are definitely finite. Our cash on hand is in reasonably good shape and we have a lot of work waiting to be done, but our accounts receivable is trailing well behind last year. Also, things keep breaking down — now we are replacing Vann’s printer.

Every webinar and Zoom I have “attended” this year says the same thing: quit trying to plan for 5-10 years like we’ve told you’re supposed to all this time; focus on the next two weeks. For the next two weeks, we don’t need grant money, and that’s a good thing, because nothing is coming our way.

The one that we and many other Colorado businesses were putting our faith in was the Energize Colorado Gap Fund. Once again, I have no idea what Energize Colorado is, other than a bunch of people playing at being entrepreneurs with a very skewed sense of their self-worth and a complete lack of awareness of how harmful this pandemic has been to actual businesses in the state.

Funding for this Gap, which so far is a chasm never to be crossed, came out of the federal CARES act, passed, you may recall, last spring. Well, it took the geniuses at Energize Colorado all summer to announce their roll-out, which was going to be in early August mid August end of August didn’t happen until mid-September.

With no sense of urgency whatsoever, Energize jovially announced this really fun process, whereby companies would pour their thoughtful heart and soul into an application, then be assigned a “financial mentor” who would evaluate each application — over a genial cup of afternoon tea, as I envision it.

And that was it. We heard back with the name of the agency overseeing our application. Just the name. No contact, no follow-up, no questions. Then we got an e-mail announcing — and here you can see the genius shining through — that it would take six weeks to evaluate all the applications they got (they got a lot of applications! There’s a surprise!) but don’t worry; if yours isn’t selected in the first round, it will be put into the second round, which starts next week and is not six weeks removed from the first round. (I can counts real good.)

Yesterday, when Kara wondered if anyone has received any funds yet, I went scrolling through the internet, and the best I could find was the first paragraph of a story from the Denver Business Journal (for $4 I could read the rest of it, but I didn’t go there) saying that the number of businesses that applied for the Gap Fund in the first four days (which includes Pat’s) would more than deplete the entire fund.

The webinar I watched where the Energize hipsters laid out their lace doily tea plan for this fun process featured a question from a desperate owner, business already closed, who wanted to know if the fund could be used to help pay off her debt. NO, she was told firmly, although the nutcase who thought she might possibly start a business next spring was told she wasn’t “likely” to get money unless she made a “great” case for it.

And if they ever get around to actually dispensing money to those deemed worthy enough, they anticipate it shouldn’t take more than six, maybe eight weeks, for the money to reach the business.

In the meantime, as the clock ticks on, the Majestic movie theatre in Crested Butte has closed its doors. What if the morons mishandling this grant money had moved with the alacrity this situation demands? Maybe the Majestic could have received a grant to help cover that back rent, thus keeping the only theatre in a 60-mile radius in business. But I suppose that would hinge on them being a worthy member of the community.

Now, I would guess, even if the owners applied the Majestic will no longer be eligible for Gap funding, since it’s no longer in business, no thanks at all to the state of Colorado. How many other businesses are sliding into the icy waters of the north Atlantic while the first-class losers of Energize Colorado steam on into the night in their black-tie finest?

The weekly unemployment report got pushed off the page this morning by the imminent airline layoffs of tens of thousands of employees, 3,000 of them at Denver’s airport alone. CBS noted that this would begin a cascade onto other businesses who rely on either the airlines or their workers.

Worthy or not, community leaders or not, a lot of people out there need help. If your stock portfolio is such that you can pay cash for your second third fourth home, well good for you. In the meantime there are people drowning down here, and it seems like too much trouble for those who say they want to offer help to actually mean it.

There’s a Gap all right, but Energize Colorado hasn’t found the right one.

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