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Amazon to grant $5 million to small businesses near its headquarters struggling because of coronavirus

UPDATED: Tue., March 10, 2020

Amazon executives approved a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters to ease the loss of business from the company’s decision to have employees work from home to stem the spread of coronavirus. (Reed Saxon / AP)
Amazon executives approved a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters to ease the loss of business from the company’s decision to have employees work from home to stem the spread of coronavirus. (Reed Saxon / AP)
Seattle Times

Amazon executives approved a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters struggling with a dramatic slowdown since the company instructed its employees to work from home if they could.

The company will provide cash grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue that serve the public, rely on foot traffic, and have a physical presence “within a few blocks of our Regrade and South Lake Union office buildings,” Amazon vice president of global real estate and facilities John Schoettler said in a message on the company’s blog.

Schoettler said the hundreds of restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, retailers and other small businesses that surround the company’s dozens of headquarters buildings “are a meaningful part of what give our neighborhoods the energy and vibrancy we all love.”

“These businesses support tens of thousands of local jobs that are a critical part of the Seattle and Puget Sound economy,” Schoettler said. “They’re our friends and neighbors, and we believe it’s important to try to help them confront the economic challenges that are likely to come from the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Amazon is one of several major companies that followed recommendations of King County officials last week, directing all employees who could to work from home in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It has more than 53,500 employees in the area.

Companies are turning their attention to the impacts on contract and hourly workers who staff the nearly empty buildings, and the small businesses hurt by a dramatic slowdown in traffic. Labor groups have called for assistance for workers who are losing hours and jobs as the impact of COVID-19 spreads.

On Monday, Amazon pledged $1 million, joining Microsoft and other corporations, in establishing a fund with the Seattle Foundation aimed at softening the economic blow on people without health insurance or sick leave, residents with limited English proficiency, communities of color, and health care and gig economy workers.

In building an enormous campus on the north end of downtown over the last decade, Amazon eschewed the lavish corporate cafeterias offered by other technology employers, instead creating space in its buildings for restaurants and other vendors, which largely rely on business from Amazon employees.

The company said last week it would subsidize rent to small businesses that lease space in its buildings, and pledged to keep paying the more than 10,000 hourly workers who service its Seattle and Bellevue offices.

Businesses can receive that subsidy and also apply for grants from the Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund, intended to pay employees, rent and other fixed costs amid a precipitous decline in sales, a company spokesman said.

Application information is expected to be posted this week on Amazon’s Day One corporate blog. Amazon intends to work with a third party to review grant applications from local businesses during the second half of March, with funds, which don’t need to be repaid, to be disbursed in April. The company will ask for information including the amount of revenue each applicant expects to lose in March.

Amazon wants to make the process easy so businesses facing cash-flow problems can be stabilized quickly, the spokesman said.

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