Global Detroit Helps Small Businesses Weather COVID-19

Rezaul Chowdhury

Like so many others, Rahman Mohammad’s business came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic began and Governor Whitmer ordered non-essential businesses to close. Rahman is the owner of Bangla Remodeling, a Hamtramck-based construction company with a large number of local, Bangladeshi clients. Bangladeshi customers are comfortable working with Rahman because he speaks their language. They can communicate exactly what they need, losing nothing in translation. 

When the shutdown began, Rahman had to consider his own income and that of two employees. He wasn’t sure exactly where to look for help. Fortunately, he was already a part of Global Detroit’s network. At the end of 2019, Global Detroit convened businesses in Hamtramck, East Davison Village and Banglatown to discuss how to support and grow local businesses from within the community. Recognizing several common needs, the diverse group of Polish, Yemeni, Bangladeshi and African-American business owners decided they wanted to form a business association. Through the association, business owners would be able to work together to promote “shop local” campaigns, refer customers to one another and advocate for business friendly city policies like ample parking and alley clean up. 

While the pandemic put plans for a business association on hold, it forced new, creative ways to reach business owners. Businesses were closed while, at the same time, resources to help those  businesses weather the crisis were quickly coming online almost daily. How do you get resources to business owners if you can’t visit them? Rezaul Chowdhury, Global Detroit’s community engagement specialist in Banglatown, and Md. Abdul Muhit, district business liaison for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, built upon years of friendship and professional collaboration to come up with a solution. They called more than 50 business owners, sometimes on their home phones, to ask if they’d join a WhatsApp group. This group became a centralized space where business owners could get updates on Executive Orders, access to grants and loans, and information about returning to work– all from trusted members of their community.

Soon after Rahman joined the WhatsApp group, Rezaul sent out information on TechTown’s Small Business Stabilization Grant, which offered up to $5,000 for businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park impacted by COVID-19. Knowing that Rahman likely qualified for the grant, Rezaul stayed in contact with him, making sure he had what he needed to apply. Rahman received a grant and, while it was small, it helped him keep his business open until the stay home order was lifted. His business was slow to restart at first, but business has picked up significantly. He kept his two employees and has hired other subcontractors in the last month to meet demand. 

While it may be a while before business association planning can resume, Rahman stays connected to business owners in his community through the WhatsApp group. This digital space offers some of the same support the future business association will—it’s a place for business owners to come together to connect to funding and resources, find technical assistance, ask questions of one another and strengthen their businesses and community, together.

(Photo: Global Detroit Community Engagement Specialist Rezaul Chowdhury)