Small Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. -

Small Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. - lehighvalleylive.comSmall Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. - lehighvalleylive.comPosted: 30 May 2020 05:22 AM PDT More than 40 Lehigh Valley small business owners Saturday will be offering virtual deals on what they say will be one of their biggest shopping sales annually.Small Business Saturday typically is timed for following Black Friday in November. The nationwide effort for the past decade encourages communities to shop local as it kicks off the busiest shopping season of the year.The chamber is moving this year to hold the event twice -- this time with social distancing -- as many businesses struggle to survive financially during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close their doors on March 19. Restaurants were then forced to offer menu items by takeout only with curbside pickup or delivery.Lehigh Val…

Zoning code update progress, small business grants featured at FNU - East Village Magazine

Zoning code update progress, small business grants featured at FNU - East Village Magazine

Zoning code update progress, small business grants featured at FNU - East Village Magazine

Posted: 08 Oct 2019 05:50 PM PDT

By Luther Houle

"You guys are definitely the heroes. You don't get paid for this," said Glenn Wilson Saturday morning Oct. 5 at the Flint Public Library. "A breakfast is just something to say thank you to you guys, and keep up the hard work!"

Wilson, president of Communities First, Inc., a non-profit community development corporation, provided the Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU) monthly meeting with a full breakfast buffet. 

Wilson recently cut the ribbon to the Coolidge Park Apartments, formerly Coolidge Elementary which he attended as a child.

His company also rehabilitated the former Oak School into a senior living complex and the Swayze Apartments for low-income and special needs tenants.  He recently has encountered stiff resistance from a group of Carriage Town residents opposing his proposed development of a 48-unit affordable housing complex at what is now called University Square.

Other highlights from the monthly meeting of about 50 of Flint's officials, neighborhood leaders and activists included information on applications for a "Moving Flint Forward" business grant due Oct. 18,  and a 45-minute presentation on the City's newly proposed zoning code expected to see city council consideration later this year.

 Moving Flint Forward Grant for small businesses: deadline Friday Oct.18

Lottie Ferguson, director of grants and development at Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce spoke at the meeting to introduce and explain some details about what she called "Moving Flint Forward 2.0". She reminded the group of the first iteration of the grant which "helped small businesses get the funds necessary to stay in business at the height of the water crisis." She then explained that version 2.0 will help small businesses and neighborhoods at the same time through service projects.

The grant offers $10,000 to small businesses that meet a list of requirements. Business also have to perform a service project for one of Flint's neighborhoods. Ferguson says, "It's not a loan. We're not asking small businesses to pay the money back. It could be used for improvements. It could be used for inventory. It could be used for upgrades or maintenance."

The business must be at least one year old, have fewer than 20 employees, and be located inside the City of Flint. It also cannot be a franchise, or a nonprofit, and must be in good standing and not in bankruptcy. Businesses that have made it this far will be asked to complete a service project along with a nonprofit organization or neighborhood group of their choice.

Ferguson asked which groups could potentially use a service project. Carma Lewis, president of FNU, mentioned the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, the Crim Foundation, and Communities First, Inc.

Applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18. Interested businesses can go to to find out if they qualify.

 The Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (810)600-1404, or at the url above to answer questions about the grant, and receive ideas for potential service projects.

City of Flint Lead Planner Adam Moore and Zoning Coordinator Andy Aamodt describe proposed zoning code changes to the FNU (Photo by Luther Houle)

City official presents draft zoning code update

Adam Moore, lead planner for the Planning and Zoning Division of the City of Flint Department of Planning and Development, presented information about Draft Zoning Code Updates with the help of Andy Aamodt and Andy Fedewa.

Moore provided background details for why an updated zoning code is needed.  According to Moore, nine years ago the City began to make its first master plan in 50 years.

He said it was a community-led master plan, steered by a committee of representatives from each ward, and paid for by a Challenge Grant from the Obama administration. Along with the master plan, Moore said the grant required a new capital improvement plan and a new zoning code.

According to Moore, the zoning code has been under development since 2015, when he began to work for the City of Flint. "We spent a couple years working with the steering committees to develop this code. It went to planning commission two and a half years ago. We had multiple public hearings, and 14 workshops ahead of that to make sure we got this code right."

He added the feedback from those workshops and hearings, as well as responses from the staff, can be found online at

Now that the code has been approved by the planning commission and is ready to go before city council, Moore remarked that his presentation would be a final chance to answer questions before the zoning code goes before the city council for a first reading this month in its own special public city council meeting–date still to be determined.

Moore says "some of our city council meetings have been going quite late at night. we want to make sure this zoning code receives the attention that it needs, and that everyone is able to come."

Moore said he expects the zoning code will go before council for a second reading in November, following a public hearing.

Details of the zoning code can be found at

 Under the new code, all buildings are classified as permitted-by-right, special use, accessory use, additionally regulated use, or ground floor to determine what process is needed to approve their construction.

Each building's classification is decided by its use and the zone in which it will reside. A zoning ordinance master use table can be found at the above URL.

Where a building is permitted is determined by its zoning district. The new code proposes 18 zoning districts in five different categories. These are residential, commercial, institutional, employment, or open spaces.

Residential zones

The residential zones include green neighborhoods, traditional neighborhoods, and mixed residential neighborhoods in varying densities. Moore began by explaining green neighborhoods, saying "the uses that are allowed in a traditional neighborhood versus a green neighborhood are almost exactly the same."

He stated the main difference between the two is the size yard you are allowed. "You want to build a home in a green neighborhood, you do so on a larger lot." Moore went on to describe traditional neighborhoods as single-family houses, and mixed residential neighborhoods as areas of multi family houses such as duplexes, apartments, or condos.

Commercial zone

The commercial zones are neighborhood center, city corridor, downtown core, and downtown edge. Moore says neighborhood center zones are "walkable retail", possibly with apartments above. "Think about your Gillroy's or Ace Hardware, versus your Home Depot or your Lowe's." City corridors, meanwhile, represent the less-walkable retail, where you might drive store-to-store. Downtown core and downtown edge represent the space surrounding downtown Saginaw Street.

Institutional zone

The institutional zones include institutional campus and university core. Moore explains that these zones are some of the few areas concerned more with what a building looks like than what its use is. These zones are designed to create a walkable area between Flint's college campuses and downtown Saginaw Street.

Employment zone

Employment zones are categorized as commerce and employment, production center, or green innovation. Moore explains that "we're trying to build buffers where we can", showing that some of these zones have been designed to prevent building polluting factories next to residential neighborhoods. Green innovation zones, meanwhile, are flexible areas meant to provide mostly abandoned residential neighborhoods with new uses. He listed orchards, or solar plants as potential buildings to go up here.

Open space zone

Under the previous zoning code, parks did not have their own zone. Moore explained that the open space zone is reserved for parks.

"Non-conforming" AKA "grandfathering" 

Moore then explained  "non-conforming structures and uses."  He said the new code is meant to make sure that no one will be forced to move from their home or their business.

Also known as "grandfathering," non-conforming buildings are allowed to remain despite the changing policy. The Imagine Flint website states "if those structures were lawfully built or its use was lawfully established with the appropriate permits under the previous zoning code, it will still be allowed to exist as a grandfathered legal non-conformity."

Moore wrapped up his presentation by encouraging FNU members to reach out with feedback either by phone at (810)766-7426 or at

EVM Staff Writer Luther Houle can be reached at

Meet Junk Star Handcrafted Furniture: Nav’s $10,000 Small Business Grant Winner - Nav

Posted: 24 Sep 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Another round of Nav's Small Business Grant has closed. This round brought in more applications than ever before and presented the team with a bounty of deserving business owners, making it incredibly difficult to narrow it down to finalists, let alone select our Grand Prize winner. 

After weeks of deliberation and follow-up interviews, the entire Nav team is pleased to announce that the winners of our most recent Grant round are Alex and Jenn Morton, Founders & Owners of Junk Star Handcrafted Furniture

Junk Star, located in San Antonio, Texas, started as a hobby project for the couple in 2014, giving them extra income and the opportunity to show their creativity. In 2015, the couple took a leap of faith and rented a storefront, turning their side hustle into a full-blown bricks-and-mortar business.

The Mortons' application for the grant recounted a wealth of personal setbacks and challenges they encountered along their entrepreneurial journey. They were brutally honest and completely vulnerable, which, in the end, not only ending up helping them win the Grant, but also brought them more business and the support of their community and customers. 

Earlier this year, I surprised Jaron and Maggie Clayton, owners of Running Dogs Brewery, with Nav's $10,000 Small Business Grant. Given the amazing reaction the couple had to the surprise, the team decided to repeat the scenario and meet up with Alex and Jenn to tell them the good  great news in person. After a few white lies and a flight to San Antonio, I found myself face to face with Alex and Jenn to ask a few questions and learn more about their business. 

Between tears of joy (from me and them) and endless thank yous, here's what they had to share: 

How will you use Nav's Small Business Grant?

We're using the $10,000 to: 

  • Install new LED lighting and fix broken equipment
  • Buy new tools like an industrial bandsaw
  • Install an automated vacuum system to streamline our cleanup process
  • Purchase laptop designated for business purposes and design software
  • Invest in a trailer, allowing us to deliver furniture rather than outsourcing to a third party

What's the inspiration for your business name? 

Junk Star refers to our ability to make something out of what some would consider nothing – or junk. When we first started our business back in 2014, we would go to the flea market, look online or just drive around to see what others were getting rid of. Then, we'd take other folks' "junk" and turn them into "star" pieces by giving them a little love and attention. 

What do you love most about running your own business?

Having our own business allows us to spend time with the ones who matter most – each other and our kids. The minute our kids get out of school they come to the shop, see how hard we've worked that day and they're learning the trade of woodworking alongside us. Specifically, we love owning a custom furniture business because we get to use our clients' dreams as blueprints for crafting pieces that will become family heirlooms. 

Tell us about one of the biggest challenges in running your own business. 

We're no different than any other business owner — cash flow and access to capital are our biggest pain points. It doesn't take long in our shop for something to break or a customer to request a piece of furniture that requires use of special equipment that we don't have. Because we do everything custom — and our processes aren't automated at this point — we're only able to take so many orders each month. It's an endless cycle of money in, money out. 

What's the smartest thing you did when you were first starting out?

We listened to our customers and let their product demands dictate where we invested our efforts and steered our business. When we first started Junk Star we were turning trash into treasure and only doing a few custom pieces at customer requests. As we begin to sit on inventory for the re-finished pieces, we realized that more people were interested in putting their personal style on the furniture pieces. This led us to focus more on the custom-building aspect of our business.

Any advice for other entrepreneurs?

Have patience with yourself and your business – especially if you've never been a business owner before. Owning a business is unlike any other profession – it takes a lot of knowledge and commitment. Give yourself the time and resources to understand all the different facets, and don't ever be ashamed of asking experts for help. 

What's next for your business?

With the help of Nav's Grant we'll be taking our business to the next level, streamlining processes and dedicating more time into the promotion of our business. Our first plan is to focus on adding interior design offerings for both residential and commercial clients. This will add another stream of revenue to our business and give us the opportunity to give clients a full-service experience. 

Since launching the Small Business Grant program in 2018, Nav has given out more than $60,000 to small business owners.

Think you could be our next winner? Submit your application today. The next round of the Grant is currently open; closing on December 20. New this round, we're now accepting applications via LinkedIn. 

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