Baker administration awards 108 Massachusetts businesses $5 million in COVID-19 small business grants

Desy Papper

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced another 108 businesses would receive a collective $5 million in small business grants under a COVID-19 grant program. “These relief grants were designed to help the hardest hit businesses, specifically targeted to certain groups and sectors that were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and […]

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced another 108 businesses would receive a collective $5 million in small business grants under a COVID-19 grant program.

“These relief grants were designed to help the hardest hit businesses, specifically targeted to certain groups and sectors that were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and in many cases couldn’t access some of the federally available business support programs,” Baker said from his podium at the Panela Restaurant in Lowell, a recipient of the state’s grant program.

To date, the state has awarded more than $687 million to 15,112 business. He said 46% went to women-owned businesses and 43% of awards went to minority businesses.

One of those is Panela Restaurant, a family-owned Colombian restaurant in Lowell. Viviana Acevedo emigrated from Colombia at age 15 and enrolled in Lowell High School. After graduating, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked at various restaurants before opening Panela with her parents and brother. The restaurant aims to bring Colombian ingredients and flavors to fine dining, the website states.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better city to land,” said Juan Acevedo, Viviana’s brother, who works at the restaurant. “One of the things that I love the most about the city is the diversity. Just on this street alone you could visit about seven different nationalities of restaurants.”

Gustavo Acevedo, her father, chopped vegetables in the kitchen as Baker shared the family’s story from his podium.

“Since then, Panela has been a fabric of this community and a well-known spot for many,” the Republican governor said as he stood in front of a colorful mural spotlighting freshwater and people carrying fresh produce.

Gov. Charlie Baker visits Panela restaurant in Lowell to talk about grants that are helping small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.POOL PHOTO/Lowell Sun/Julia Mala

The grant program overseen by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation helped Panela stay open and continue to pay its staff, Juan Acevedo said.

“It was the perfect time,” he said.

Amplify Latinx Executive Director Rosario Ubiera-Minaya praised the Baker administration’s efforts to prioritize minority- and women-owned businesses during the latest grants. She said Amplify Latinx and other community partners worked with MGCC and state officials on linguistically diverse resources to get those business owners to apply for relief.

“This doesn’t happen by accident. The success of this program happens when you make a concerted effort and you are intentional about directing these funds specifically again to support our minority communities,” Ubiera-Minaya said. “This strategy is really about collaboration.”

Business relief programs continue to see high demand nationwide. The federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund has received more than 186,000 applications in the first two days, the Small Business Administration said. The $28.6 billion fund drew applications from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and five U.S. territories.

In Massachusetts, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to drop this week. State health officials on Wednesday reported another 888 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active infections to 21,300 down from 22,248 a day earlier.

Officials reported 13 COVID-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 17,306.

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