Small business owners in Metro Detroit weather downturn with federal loans

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Operating a floral design business through the pandemic has been a roller coaster for Kevin Miller.

“The guidelines with gatherings, it’s been a ride for sure,” said Miller, owner of Twigs and Branches Floral in Rochester Hills.

Miller was able to receive assistance from the federal government through loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.

“I can say we’re super grateful…,” he said.

Miller was among nearly a dozen small-business owners U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin heard from Friday during a roundtable in Rochester and a walking tour in Rochester Hills.

Joining Slotkin was Robert Scott, regional administrator for the Small Business Administration. Slotkin said that she has been in regular contact with him about concerns from business owners in her district. 

Common questions are if there will be another round of PPP loans and the terms for loan forgiveness, Slotkin said following a roundtable at Tonia's Victorian Rose Tea Room in Rochester. 

Robert Scott, Regional Administrator for the Small Business Administration (SBA) and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) talk with Twigs and Branches Floral owner and designer Kevin Miller in Rochester Hills, Michigan on September 4, 2020.

".... A second issue I think people really want to see is Democrats and Republicans working together, and Rob and I come from different political backgrounds and it didn’t matter at all," she said. "It made zero difference to both of us. We just pitched in, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

Slotkin said that in her congressional district, which spans Rochester Hills to Lansing, 9,210 small businesses received PPP loans. Loanans ranged from $113 to $3 million, with the average loan being $30,000. As a result 112,000 workers in the district were able to keep their jobs, she said. 

Slotkin co-sponsored the bipartisan PPP Flexibility Act, which the legislation passed into law in June making it easier for small businesses to access forgivable PPP loans. 

"I feel pretty good about what the program was able to do," she said.

Still, there are some industries that are still suffering, particularly those businesses in hospitality and entertainment, Scott said. It's an issue that's been discussed in conversations about a second round of loans, he said.

"I think Congress along with the administration needs to be look at those specific industries that have been impacted and haven’t truly been able to reopen or reopen in a limited capacity that they really are losing money running their business,” he said. “I think that’s going to be on the table as Congress reconvenes here in September to hopefully get a good economic relief package through Congress and to the president.”

Slotkin said she has appealed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to reopen at 10% capacity those businesses that aren’t yet allowed to reopen — particularly outdoor businesses.

“We have a ton of outdoor venues, outdoor establishments,” she said. “Everything from minor league baseball teams still have in some cases the very end of their season to go. I went to a dahlia farm and they usually have people come at the end of September for events to see all the flowers. Everyone’s asking me can they please get some more capacity, particularly for outdoor venues, but also large venues.”

“All those businesses that have depended on outdoor service are wondering what the heck it’s going to mean for them,” she continued. “Are they going to be able to survive the fall and into winter? People are getting increasingly desperate."

Tonia Carsten, owner of  Tonia's Victorian Rose Tea Room, said she was happy to welcome the roundtable on Friday. Due to a limited staff, Carsten pitched in as a waitress before taking some time to speak about her experiences.

Robert Scott, Regional Administrator for the Small Business Administration (SBA) and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) talk with Twigs and Branches Floral owner and designer Kevin Miller in Rochester Hills, Michigan on September 4, 2020.

Carsten said she spent nine hours filling out her PPP loan application by herself and did 20 hours of training to learn how to safely run her business. Her biggest concern is her ability to continue to pay rent.

"I'm hoarding because I don't necessarily need it right now, but pretty soon I'm going to," she said.

Miller said the loans he received have helped keep his four full-time and seven part-time employees working. 

He can attest to the challenges of running an event-related business. He said that due to the pandemic he has had to move 150 events to next year.

"It hit everybody so hard," he said. "Photographers, planners, venues, bakeries, everybody. But I feel there is a little spark right now before I feel everybody is trying to get their events in before it gets cold. That’s probably my biggest concern is what we will do in the winter as far as that goes. Our team is already putting together some ideas.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN