WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County, along with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, are again coming to the aid of businesses who have suffered over the last several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The two parties have created what they are calling the Minnesota Pandemic Relief Grant Program, using funds from the state's coronavirus relief bill passed in December.

The County Board on Jan. 5, along with the EDC's finance committee and joint operations board on Jan. 7, all approved the new program, which opened to applications Friday, Jan. 8.

"It is a blessing to a lot of businesses and we are lucky Kandiyohi County is so on the ball," said Willmar City Councilor Julie Asmus on Thursday, who also is a council representative at the EDC.

The county received $831,645 from the state to be turned into grants for eligible businesses who have suffered financial losses during the pandemic. Following in the footsteps of the very successful CARES Act Pandemic Relief Grant Program, under which the EDC and county approved and distributed more than $3 million in grants to county businesses, the county and EDC have teamed up again for the new Minnesota Pandemic Relief Grant Program.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"The county would like to turn around this program quickly," said EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman on Thursday. "They indicated to me and the staff here they want to get the funds out expeditiously to help businesses that have been impacted by the latest executive orders and the pandemic."

The new local grant program will be more targeted than the earlier program, and grants will be given out in three specific tiers of eligible businesses. Grant amounts in all three tiers will range between $5,000 to $25,000.

The first group includes hotels, restaurants, breweries, bars, gyms and fitness centers who saw at least a 20 percent reduction in sales from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020 and also did not qualify for the state-run grant program, another aspect of the larger coronavirus relief bill passed by the Legislature. Businesses that were eligible for that state program should have already been contacted by the Department of Revenue, Backman said.

The amount businesses will receive in county-approved grants will depend on the number of employees and amount of gross revenue loss.

"We wanted to identify those that did not fit the Department of Revenue program, but were in that same category that were identified," said Connie Schmoll, EDC business development manager, at the Jan. 5 County Board meeting.

The second tier of the Minnesota Pandemic Relief Grant Program, which will be funded only if there is money left over from Tier 1, will be for those business owners who have multiple businesses but only one employer identification number, or tax identification number. An example would be someone who owns multiple franchised restaurants. Those grant amounts will be determined through an EDC formula.

Tier 2 will also be available to businesses with an event center connected, with grant amounts set by the center's occupancy rate.

"We are trying to capture businesses that are impacted, that have been identified as in greatest need and most dramatically impacted by the executive order, but are not being assisted by the state funding," Schmoll said, referring to Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders that limited some business operations in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The last tier, which again will be funded only if there is any money remaining after Tier 1 and 2 grants are distributed, is for all other eligible county businesses and nonprofits. Grant amounts will depend on the number of employees and gross revenue loss.

"We know there are still a lot of businesses hurting," Schmoll said. "They would still have the ability to apply under Tier 3."

All businesses interested in applying to the Minnesota Pandemic Relief Grant Program must demonstrate financial losses of at least 20 percent, have a minimum of $20,000 in revenue either in 2019 or 2020, have 50 or fewer full-time employees, have a physical location in Kandiyohi County, been in operation since Jan. 1, 2020, and be registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State. They also can not have a tax lien against the business.

There is a significant list of ineligible businesses including accounting firms, auto sellers, chain convenience stores, chiropractors, construction, dental, eye care, insurance agencies, jewelry stores, production agriculture, residential rental properties and religious organizations. A full list can be found on the application.

Any business wanting to apply for any of the grants needs to have an application submitted to the EDC by 4 p.m. Feb. 17. A single application is used for all the grant tiers.

The grants for Tier 1 will be acted on first, followed by Tier 2 and then Tier 3 on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no guarantee there will be funding available for Tier 2 or 3, though Backman said he believes there could be some funds.

"They need to get their applications done and submitted," Backman said.

The EDC finance committee will review all applications while the County Board will make the final approvals, similar to how the earlier CARES Act Pandemic Relief Grant Program worked.

"We tried, in a short amount of time, to put together an application process that will meet the needs and be flexible enough," Schmoll said during the Jan. 5 discussion. "The goal is to get the money out to people as quick as possible."

EDC staff plan to reach out to county businesses over the next several days, and urged board and committee members to do the same. All the money must be distributed by March 15.

"If you know businesses that need assistance, you can send them our way," Backman said Thursday. "We want to make sure they are aware of the opportunity."

See related Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.