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New grant program to offer immigrant businesses some COVID relief in Kandiyohi County

Grant and loan programs through the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been established to help county businesses through the pandemic. Already, tens of thousands of dollars have been loaned or granted to approved businesses.

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As retail businesses are allowed to open up, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have been establishing loan and grant programs with the goal to assistance businesses that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic shut down, including immigrant businesses and home day care providers. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, along with other local and regional partners, continues to look for new ways to help businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

"We are using the resources we have to try to address some of the emergency funding," said Aaron Backman, EDC executive director.

A new grant program, this one geared toward new immigrant businesses in Kandiyohi County, was approved by the EDC Joint Operations Board at its meeting Thursday. The program, the Immigrant Business Disaster Relief Grant Program, will award grants of $500 to $750 to eligible businesses in the county.

The total funding for the grants, $25,000, is coming from the Southwest Initiative Foundation, provided by the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund. Backman estimates between 30 and 40 grants could be available with the program, which is slated to end Oct. 15. Kandiyohi County has approximately 80 diverse businesses.

"It is intended to provide support for small businesses, especially immigrants whose primary language might not be English," Backman said. "The goal is to close the gap for those businesses who have the largest hurdles."

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The money can be used for working capital, rent, utilities, taxes and other businesses expenses.

Eligible businesses must be in Kandiyohi County and have been open for at least five months but not more than seven years. They also need to be registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State.

There will be no fees or credit report requested from applicants, but the EDC is requiring basic financial information. Those businesses who have already received assistance through the EDC's COVID-19 Business Assistance Loan Program will not be eligible for the new grant program.

"You can have one or the other, you can't have both," Backman said.

The EDC plans to create a simple application form that will be available in a number of languages including English, Somali, Spanish and Karen. Staff will also be using a variety of ways to publicize the program including traditional media, social media and working with community leaders to spread the word.

Under the COVID-19 Business Assistance Loan Program, the EDC has approved $92,500 worth of loans to businesses in Kandiyohi County, about 62 percent of the $150,000 available. Loans are available for up to $5,000 at zero percent interest for 24 months, with deferred payments up to six months and a 1 percent loan origination fee.

The EDC has so far received completed applications from 27 businesses.

"Twenty out of the 27 were approved," Backman said.

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The program was set up as a source of emergency funding for businesses that were required to shut down or saw a significant drop in business due to the pandemic shutdown.

"The most frequent business that has received emergency funding from us is restaurants," along with salons, gyms, a winery and a yoga studio. "We have had an interesting mix of businesses."

Finally, each of the 89 licensed, home day care providers in Kandiyohi County should soon be receiving a check from the EDC, through its Childcare Business Assistance program. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Willmar Area Community Foundation Willmar Area Response Fund, the EDC now has $29,000 available for the program, which was approved by the EDC in April.

"We have checks going out as soon as we get the check from the Willmar Area Community Foundation," said Connie Schmoll, EDC business development specialist.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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