COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
BIG LAKE (POPULATION 11,456)
Last March, along with every other city in Minnesota, Big Lake leaders struggled with how to support our business community as we watched them either have to shut down or change how they operate due to COVID-19.
One thing we focused on was getting useful information to our business community. City staff gathered information from the state, and then summarized the pertinent parts in an easy-to-read format for businesses. We also started a #KeepBigLakeStrong campaign by promoting the business community on social media.
Grants for businesses
In June, we learned of the federal funds coming from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and discovered that we could receive over $800,000. We thought one way to use those funds was to offer grants to the business community. We worked with other municipalities, Sherburne County, the city attorney, the city auditor, and our economic development authority to create a COVID-19 Emergency Grant Program Policy, Application, and Agreement package.
The City Council unanimously approved the grant package on July 22. Council members thought it was most appropriate to provide a grant rather than a loan, so the funds wouldn’t add to a business’s debt.
To be eligible for the grant, an organization had to: (1) exist on March 1, 2020; (2) have no more than 100 employees; and (3) be in good standing with the Minnesota Office of Secretary of State.
The city accepted 33 applications with a total request of $1.5 million. Businesses and organizations that were deemed nonessential were categorized as highest priority.
Making a difference
In the end, the City Council unanimously approved a total award amount of $548,000, and all applicants received a grant. The biggest grant was $100,000, which went to a nonprofit that was still shut down at the time. Other grants ranged from $5,000 to $35,000. This left roughly $315,000 for the city to cover its own COVID-19 expenses.
We hope the grants made a positive difference for Big Lake businesses, as we continue to navigate through this unprecedented time and work to #KeepBigLakeStrong.
COTTONWOOD (POPULATION 1,237)
Local businesses are a community’s heartbeat. So, in Cottonwood, when COVID-19 threatened that heartbeat, we felt it was our duty to save it. Our immediate response was an interest moratorium for all city-issued business loans.
In addition, we created a $5,000 shortterm loan program to businesses at 0% interest. However, we did not get any applications for that — probably because no one anticipated the severity of the pandemic.
Keeping community safe
Early on, we took steps to keep the community safe. We provided free face masks and sanitizer at drop boxes and businesses, relieving organizations of some of their safety costs.
When the state allowed restaurants to open for outdoor dining only, we wanted to do something to help our local bar and grill reopen safely. We provided a special permit to the restaurant to allow for the expansion of outdoor dining in parking areas designated for other purposes by zoning ordinance.
Another safety measure focused on day cares and schools. The community donated handmade children’s face masks, and we distributed those, along with face shields, sanitizer, and dress-up kits, to each day care. We also used some of our federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to give face masks to our local schools.
Offering financial relief
The need for financial relief became urgent in August when a hair salon — which had served our community for 35 years — planned to close. We decided to use a portion of our CARES Act funds to help our struggling businesses.
The City Council designated $40,000, and staff developed a grant program providing up to $10,000 to businesses and $2,500 to nonprofit organizations. To qualify for a grant, applicants had to be in good standing with their taxes and financials.
We received six applications from businesses, with four requesting $10,000 each, and two requesting a combined total of $7,600. The city approved each request, totaling $47,600.
More funding needed
The harsh reality is that $10,000 only covered a fraction of the loss for these businesses. Now that the CARES funds have expired at the local level just in time for a dial-back and the holidays, we are faced with the same issues once again and look to our higher governments to help ensure we are able to keep our hearts beating.