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Willmar could be sending $1 million to EDC for CPR

The Willmar City Council Finance Committee recommended transferring $1 million of the city's CARES Act allotment to the county and city EDC for the CPR grant program. The program provides grants to small businesses and nonprofits which have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. The city's funds would join the $1.3 million from Kandiyohi County.

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The CPR grant program, created to assists Kandiyohi County small businesses and non-profits hurt by the pandemic, could receive another big influx of cash. The Willmar City Council Finance Committee recommended transferring $1 million of the city's CARES Act allocation to the EDC for the grant program.

WILLMAR — In the first week of the CARES Pandemic Relief grant program, managed by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and funded with money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 47 businesses and nonprofits applied for assistance. Forty-four of those applicants were deemed eligible for help, totaling approximately $320,000 in grant requests.

"We are receiving about six applications a day right now," said Aaron Backman, EDC executive director at a recent meeting of the Willmar City Council Finance Committee. "More are in process."

The CPR program currently has $1.3 million available for relief grants, thanks to a transfer of CARES Act funds from Kandiyohi County. In less than two weeks, another $1 million could be on its way, from the city of Willmar.

The Finance Committee unanimously approved the resolution to transfer the funds to the EDC, recommending the council give its final approval at its Aug. 17 meeting.

"This is desperately needed out there," said David Ramstad, Willmar Planning and Development Services director.

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Willmar received a total of $1.5 million dollars from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The money is to be used to help pay for the unexpected costs the city incurred related to the coronavirus. Items such as additional computers so employees can telecommute and emergency paid sick leave for those impacted by the virus can all be paid for using the CARES Act funds.

"We've calculated the amount we have expended to date, and potentially could spend if all the employees take the emergency sick leave for COVID, we anticipate we would need to retain about $500,000," said Brian Gramentz, Willmar city administrator.

The remaining can be used to help struggling businesses, which both the state and federal government recommended a portion of the funds be used for.

The CPR program was established by the EDC following discussions with Kandiyohi County. The county transferred $1.3 million of its more than $5 million in CARES money to the EDC earlier in July and the program opened to applications on July 28.

"We've been pleased with the response," Backman said.

On a single day earlier this month, the EDC Finance Committee reviewed 25 applications and recommended approval of all of them, which now go to the Kandiyohi County Board for final approval at the Aug. 18 meeting. The average grant for businesses was about $9,500.

Eligible businesses and nonprofits have to meet a series of requirements to receive the grants, including showing significant revenue loss.

"The average loss for the businesses in the second quarter of 2020 was 56 percent," said Backman. "That is a pretty sizable amount."

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Willmar's funds can be used to help any eligible business or nonprofit in the county. However, since it's the largest city and a regional center, the expectation is Willmar businesses and nonprofits will receive a majority of the grants.

"We all realize the economic engine that surrounds the city of Willmar is more than just the city of Willmar. We are taking a macro approach to this," said Gramentz. "To be quite honest, in all likelihood, because of its large number of businesses and nonprofits, Willmar will probably get a lot of it back."

The committee shared its appreciation to the EDC for creating and managing the CPR program as well as the work by county and city staff. Due to the early December deadlines to have the money spent, there was not a lot of time to get a program established and working for those who need it. Feedback from businesses so far has been good, especially regarding how fast the program is moving to get the money to businesses and nonprofits.

"The businesses are in need of this help," said Councilor Andrew Plowman.

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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