With half of Washington’s workforce employed by small businesses, the survival of those employers at a time of high unemployment has become a heightened priority for different stakeholders.
Earlier this year, the state Department of Commerce doubled funds available for its Working Washington Small Business emergency grant program. Now, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is hosting an energy and cosmetic upgrade contest that is intended to help the four small businesses that win to cut their operating costs. PSE customers can nominate their favorite local business, or a business can nominate itself.
“It was really a way to figure out how we can help our small businesses that are struggling right now,” PSE customer Outreach Supervisor Leslie Myers said. “They’ve been struggling a lot.”
Among the businesses entered in the contest is Renton-based Rain City Catering. Owner and General Manager Chef Kenneth Rogers told Lens his business has had to lay off 12 of 16 employees since the COVID-19 restrictions occurred and the company was unable to secure funds from the Commerce grant program.
Rogers’ business also includes a venue that hosts community and chamber of commerce events, auctions, and weddings. Since March, Rogers said he’s turned to curbside pickup service – iincluding offering a homemade clam chowder he plans to keep as part of the mix when restrictions are lifted.
He added that while the energy upgrades and cosmetic work “probably won’t help out financially…it’s kind of gratifying to come out of it with a new you, a new feeling, even if it’s paint. We don’t have AC, (so) it would be nice to have it.”
Businesses that win will each receive $45,000 worth of energy efficiency upgrades and cosmetic improvements. Energy upgrades will include programmable thermostats and updating lighting fixtures and HVAC systems. Seattle-based restaurant chain owner Chef Edouardo Jordan will aid businesses with the cosmetic upgrades paid by PSE.
“This is a unique and unprecedented time for all small business owners, and we’ve all been forced to be adaptive, creative and intentional with all of our decisions,” Jordan said in a statement.
Myers said the reduction in energy costs will depend on the industry and their current equipment. “We’re hoping this is going to inspire business to take action to reduce their energy consumption.”