By Edward Cardenas

DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – The deadline is nearing for existing small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park to enter the New Economy Initiative’s NEIdeas: Rewarding Ideas for Business Growth challenge.

READ MORE: CDC: New Listeria Outbreak Tied To 23 Illnesses, 1 Death

This is the second year of the two-tiered challenge, which awards $500,000 in cash awards to 32 businesses in those three communities which are at least three years old.

“Small business growth is the way the economy is going to grow into the future,” said Dave Egner, Executive Director of NEI. “It’s important as the large corporations are successful that we also see these small business grow as well. They are the backbone of the economy.”

Nearly 600 small businesses applied in the inaugural year of the challenge in business ranging from service providers to manufacturing companies.

There are two awards available for businesses:

  • $10,000 for businesses that gross under $750,000 annually with ideas to grow,
  • $100,000 for businesses that gross more than $750,000 and under $5 million annually that have ideas to grow ‘big.’
READ MORE: Red Wings Hire Lightning Assistant Derek Lalonde As Coach

Thirty applicants will be awarded $10,000 each, and two higher-grossing businesses will be awarded $100,000 each. All businesses which apply for the challenge will “gain connection to other small businesses and entrepreneurs, access to resources, and exposure,” according to organizers.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) will participate in the jury process and coordinate an outreach program that features more than two dozen “Ambassador” organizations and institutions throughout all three cities that will provide small businesses with information and guidance throughout the application process.

“For this second year of NEIdeas, our team has put together a strong outreach program across Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck to attract even more small businesses,” added Rodrick Miller, President & CEO, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, in a release. “We want all of the great entrepreneurs and business owners across the cities that we work with – and can’t wait to work with – to know that the application process is quick and simple, and has the potential to unlock growth opportunities for their business, beyond the NEIdeas prizes.”

Winners in the $100,000 category last year were:

  • J & G Pallets and Trucking: A Detroit-based pallet manufacturing business located on the east side and owned by Geraldine Wooten. It is operated in conjunction with her siblings Jake Dee and Rebecca Givhan. What began in the family’s backyard 20 years ago has evolved into an operation managed between two brick and mortar facilities. Today, as they continue to grow with clients throughout the Midwest including Faygo, J & G Pallets is preparing to consolidate its operations into a single building for greater efficiency. With the help of the $100K NEIdeas grant, the company will further accelerate the renovation of their newly purchased location through essential electrical and plumbing work, hire eight local employees and purchase a new automated wood pallet maker to increase manufacturing capacity.
  • Sherwood Prototype: A metal prototype manufacturing business located in Highland Park. In 1991, Peter Paxton established this family-owned business, which is now owned and operated by five siblings of the Paxton Family. Sherwood Prototype specializes in sheet metal parts, stampings and assemblies for a variety of industries, including automotive. To date, the business has focused on the one-time prototyping of parts with manufacturing limitations preventing them from accommodating full-scale production. With the desire to change this, they have grown in the last year with an expanded facility and equipment. Through the $100k NEIdeas grant, they plan to continue their growth with the addition of welding equipment as well as investments in certifications and marketing to diversify their markets. The award will also be used to further renovate their expanded space with necessary electrical upgrades.
MORE NEWS: Troubling Arsenic Levels Found At Some Detroit Demolition Sites

The application deadline for the $10,000 challenge is June 4, and those applying for the $100,000 have to submit applications by June 25.  For more information, and for an application, visit the New Economy Initiative website.