EDA program to help small businesses gain access to fairly priced PPE

Small businesses in need of PPE — especially those based in underserved communities — got a bit of help this week.

The board of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority authorized $4 million in funding for the first phase of the Small and Micro Business PPE Access Program, which is designed to ensure that the state’s small businesses and nonprofits have access to the fairly priced personal protective equipment.

The EDA will use $3.5 million of this funding to support participating retailers’ purchases of PPE from New Jersey-based manufacturers and from small distributors located in the state’s historically underserved communities.

The remaining $500,000 will go toward marketing, technology development and administrative costs of running the program.

If phase one is successful, the EDA will seek board approval to put another $11 million into the program. This additional funding will go to micro and small businesses as grants to support PPE purchases made through the program.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the program is a way the state can help business owners with one of their most difficult challenges: Securing PPE.

“Business owners and company leaders have enough on their plates as they navigate operating with new protocols in place to safeguard the health of their customers and staff,” he said. “We are taking this step to make finding and securing PPE and other safeguarding supplies easier for business owners so they can focus on rebuilding their businesses and ensuring their future success.”

Under the program’s first phase, the state will launch a new website that provides micro and small businesses with the information needed to make easier and better PPE sourcing decisions. The website will also offer a vetted list of online retailers that have agreed to verify the quality of the PPE they are selling and offer at least a 10% discount to businesses who enter through the state’s website.

Online retailers will be vetted on a first-come, first-serve basis by the EDA, and must agree to certain performance standards for their site, such as transparent pricing or high quality products. Vetted online retailers will also be eligible to access an EDA grant pool of up to $3.5 million to support the purchase of PPE that is manufactured in New Jersey or sourced from a small wholesaler based in a historically underserved community.

Assuming the first phase of the program is successful, the EDA intends to expand the program. The intent is for this support to flow directly through the vetted online vendors, allowing users to access the grant funds at the time of their online checkout.

The state feels this public-private approach could support more than $45 million in PPE purchases and more than 50,000 small and micro businesses.

EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said the program is a result of the RFI the EDA issued in June, when it wanted to gather input and suggestions that could help to shape a possible program to ensure small businesses had sufficient access to PPE.

“The NJEDA’s top priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been helping the smallest of businesses face the unique challenges posed by this public health and economic crisis, including keeping their employees and customers safe,” he said. “Ensuring sufficient access to quality, affordable PPE is essential to allowing businesses of all sizes to reopen safely.”