LOWELL – Today, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito joined Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and local business, community, and municipal leaders on the first stop of a statewide small business and downtown conversation tour. The purpose of the tour is to celebrate the Commonwealth’s reopening and discuss the Administration’s $2.9 billion proposal for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to jumpstart the Commonwealth’s economic recovery, including $450 million for economic development.

“Our plan for ARPA funding will provide immediate relief to help the Commonwealth’s main streets and downtowns recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in a sustainable way,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Our goal with this tour is to hear directly from business owners in communities hit the hardest and highlight the once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a significant impact for so many in need.”

“Small businesses are fundamental to the character of our downtowns and main streets and our proposal to use federal funding targets the communities and neighborhoods hit the hardest to ensure an equitable recovery,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We look forward to getting back out into communities across the state to engage with and work with our partners at the local level in order to restart and re-energize Massachusetts’ economy.”

The tour, which officially launched today, will continue throughout the summer and will stop at approximately two dozen city and town centers across Massachusetts. Each stop will include a tour of downtown and main street businesses and a roundtable conversation with business owners, community leaders, and state and local officials to engage directly on how the Administration can continue to offer necessary support for economic recovery.

While Massachusetts is known as a global leader in industries such as life sciences and the innovation economy, research conducted by the US Small Business Administration found that prior to the pandemic, more than 45 percent of the entire Commonwealth’s workforce was employed by a small business.

“COVID-19 created unprecedented economic pressure on the small business community across Massachusetts,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “As we continue taking steps to put the effects of this virus behind us, our proposal to direct $2.9 billion to existing, proven programs will accelerate the Commonwealth’s economic recovery with a focus on equity and sustainability.”

In June, the Baker-Polito Administration filed a plan to put $2.9 billion of Commonwealth’s direct federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to use immediately through existing, proven programs to support key recovery priorities including housing and homeownership, economic development and local downtowns, job training and workforce development, health care, and infrastructure. The proposal expressly targets support for lower-wage workers and communities of color.

Included in the Administration’s plan is $450 million for economic development. Of that total, $100 million will be allocated specifically for downtown development to concentrate economic growth activities, resources, and investments within local neighborhood areas in municipalities disproportionally impacted by COVID; $250 million will support investments and regional collaboration aimed at invigorating downtowns and main streets throughout Massachusetts; and $100 million will be designated for efforts to support cultural facilities and tourism assets throughout Massachusetts.

During the pandemic, the Administration established the largest state-sponsored business relief program in the nation that distributed approximately $705 million in direct financial assistance to over 15,000 small businesses throughout the Commonwealth. That program, which was administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, awarded grants based on a combination of factors including demographic priorities, businesses operating in the sectors most heavily impacted by the pandemic, and in Gateway Cities, to ensure funding was distributed equitably throughout Massachusetts. Over the course of the program, 43 percent of grants were awarded to minority-owned businesses, and 46 percent of grants went to women-owned businesses.