WILLMAR — The $7.6 million Kandiyohi County, Willmar and most of the other cities and townships in the county received in total from Minnesota through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is both an opportunity and a challenge.
An opportunity because it is much-needed funding for local units of government to meet a pandemic no one expected. It is a challenge because the amount of money, the reporting requirements attached to it and short time frame could be too much for some of the smaller cities and townships to handle.
Following conversations with the county, cities and townships, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission is prepared to help, to lead a grant program that will provide relief to businesses in the county.
The CARES Act recommends that 10 percent of the relief money go to businesses. Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said at Tuesday's County Board meeting he wants to increase that to 20 percent, toward both for-profit businesses and nonprofits, and have the EDC head the business relief effort.
"We have a process in place. He is comfortable funneling the business portion of the CARES Act through the EDC," said EDC director Aaron Backman, speaking at Thursday's EDC Joint Operations Board meeting.
Based on conversations with some of the cities and townships, they too are open to the EDC running the business program and could possibly give some of their CARES money to the EDC.
"We are making connections with all the cities and townships as well," said Connie Schmoll, EDC business development manager, speaking Thursday evening at the Willmar City Council Finance Committee meeting. "Some of them, especially townships, are a little overwhelmed by the reporting requirements and what is expected of them and they have very little expenses. They are welcoming the opportunity for the EDC to work with the businesses."
The EDC's proposed CARES Pandemic Relief Grant program, also known as the CPR Grant, would be open to businesses with 50 or fewer employees, that have a physical location in Kandiyohi County and have been in business since at least March 2019. The business will also have to show a reduction in revenue of at least 25 percent between March and May compared to the same time last year. Grants could be up to $10,000.
"There has to be a need," Backman said.
Ineligible businesses would include law firms, lending institutions, utilities, chain convenience stores, residential rentals and production agriculture.
There will be a separate application for nonprofits and grant amounts could be higher for them. Applications would be approved by the EDC Finance Committee.
Backman is estimating the EDC would have around $1 million, if not more, to grant to businesses and nonprofits. To help with the added workload, the EDC is looking into contracting for assistance.
"I think we can handle a hundred grants," Backman said.
While 88 percent of the total CARES money coming into the county is going to Kandiyohi County ($5,235,792) and the city of Willmar ($1,514,038), the grant program would be available to eligible businesses throughout the county.
"I want to make sure all the communities have an opportunity for this funding," Backman said.
Nothing is final regarding the proposed grant program. More conversations will be taking place with the county and the Willmar City Council will still need to decide how it wants to use its money, as will the other cities and townships that received it.
"We need to do our best to help get the money out and for the city to recoup expenses that it has incurred; to utilize the money that is out here," said City Council member Audrey Nelsen at the Finance Committee meeting.
Cooperation will be needed to make any grant program a success within the time allowed, Backman said. Cities and townships only have until Nov. 15 to spend the money, counties until Dec. 1. Any unspent money has to go back to the U.S. Treasury.
"This is an 'all hands on deck' situation, where we are going to need partnerships with various folks," Backman said at the Finance Committee meeting. "There are only so many hours in a day."