WILLMAR — The coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened millions and killed thousands has also had a devastating impact on small businesses and nonprofits. Even now, as some states and cities begin to reopen, nothing is back to normal. In an effort to help those still struggling to hold on, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission have created the CARES Pandemic Relief Grant program, aptly known as CPR.

"We are trying to keep businesses alive," said Aaron Backman, EDC executive director.

The program will award eligible small businesses grants up to $15,000 and a maximum grant of $50,000 for nonprofits that fit the program criteria.

"What we are trying to do is give hope to small businesses and nonprofits," said Backman. "To help them get through this rough patch."

The funding for the program is from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Aid distributed to counties, cities and townships across the state from the federal government. Currently the CPR program has $1.3 million from Kandiyohi County. Backman expects other cities and townships to transfer CARES funds to the EDC as well.

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"There will be more," Backman said.

Applications for the program, as well as more information, can be found on the EDC's website at www.kandiyohi.com. The deadline for applications is Oct. 23 for nonprofits and Oct. 29 for small businesses. Backman urges those interested to apply sooner rather than later.

"When it is gone, it's gone," Backman said.

To be eligible for the program businesses must have no more than 50 full-time equivalent employees, have a physical location in Kandiyohi County, been in business since at least March 2019 and be registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State.

"This is not intended for businesses with 150, 200 employees," Backman said. "This is for small businesses."

Businesses that are not eligible for a grant include lending institutions, law firms, accounting firms, utility companies, chain convenience stores, residential rental properties, production agriculture, insurance agencies, financial advisers, passive investments and religious organizations.

Places such as churches can apply for a nonprofit grant, as long as the money will not be used for religious purposes. Eligible nonprofit applicants must have fewer than 100 full-time equivalent employees, a physical location in Kandiyohi County, be registered with the Secretary of State and have been operating since at least March 2019.

In addition to religious organizations for religious purposes other ineligible nonprofits are lobbying groups, political organizations or organizations that restrict activity based on ethnicity, gender, orientation or ability.

Both nonprofits and small businesses will have to prove a reduction in income. For businesses that is a reduction of gross revenue of at least 25 percent. Nonprofits either have to have a reduction in income or an increase in the need for its services.

"We want them to provide some financial information," Backman said.

The applications will be reviewed by the EDC Finance Committee, composed of eight members who have experience in lending. The committee will then make recommendations to the Kandiyohi County Board who will approve the grants. Due to the approval process it could take a few weeks before an applicant knows if they have been successful in obtaining a grant.

How much is awarded to an applicant will depend on scoring criteria. Business grant amounts will depend on the number of employees and percentage of loss of gross revenue. Nonprofits have five scoring criteria including number of residents directly served, organizational mission and organizational COVID-19 response such as essential services and community-based efforts.

The EDC wants to make sure the money gets to the businesses and nonprofits that need it the most, along with being responsible with the funds entrusted to them.

"We have a fiduciary responsibility," Backman said.

The county decided to give the EDC the responsibility for its CARES Act small business and nonprofit relief activities because the organization has a history of successfully managing grant and loan programs. That includes new programs specifically geared toward COVID-19 relief.

"We have been pretty responsive," Backman said.

Though the CPR program could create quite a bit of paperwork for Backman and his staff, the EDC is ready for the challenge. At the beginning of the year no one expected such a far reaching pandemic or how significant the impact would be for small businesses and nonprofits. The EDC is proud to be able to assist.

"Hopefully the financial assistance will be meaningful and help small businesses and nonprofits to recover to some degree," Backman said.