Brainerd to collaborate with CWC on small business, nonprofit grants

A sign of encouragement in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd will pool some of its coronavirus relief funds with Crow Wing County for small business and nonprofit grant relief programs.

Applications for those grants are available through Sept. 18.

The Brainerd City Council voted Monday, Aug. 17, to contribute $400,000 to the county’s $4 million grant program, which will dole out grants of up to $10,000.

The county received about $8 million in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and allocated $3 million to small business grants and $1 million to nonprofits. Likewise, city council members designated $300,000 of their funds to small businesses and $100,000 to nonprofits. Funds for Brainerd businesses and nonprofits that apply for county grants will first come from the city’s share of funds, with money for any applications exceeding that amount coming from the county.

County Administrator Tim Houle, who was present at Monday’s WebEx council meeting, said he believes this format will allow for the most fairness.


“What we are trying to strike is a very difficult balance here between trying to make sure that between the actions of the city or township and Crow Wing County — both of whom got CARES Act dollars — that the combined actions of the two is not unduly enriching a business within one community versus the other and is not unduly penalizing a business in one community versus the other,” Houle said. “And to be perfectly candid with you, it’s an impossible task.”

Through this partnership, the county will take care of all the administrative and advertising fees associated with the grants. The Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. will administer the small business grants, while the United Way will administer the nonprofit grants

The Crow Wing County Board created two subcommittees to review grant applications — one for businesses and one for nonprofits. Each subcommittee includes two county commissioners along with representatives from BLAEDC for the business grants and United Way for the nonprofit grants. The county board will ultimately approve the applications.

Mayor Dave Badeaux said he was concerned about the decision-making process under this partnership, as Brainerd’s elected officials would not get a say in how their money is spent. Council President Gabe Johnson asked if the subcommittees could have Brainerd representatives, too, as Brainerd makes up a considerable portion of the county’s population, businesses and nonprofits.

Houle said county commissioners would welcome feedback from council members, but if Brainerd had official appointees on the subcommittees, it would likely open the door to other jurisdictions wanting the same, which could get “very unwieldy very fast.”

Houle, however, invited interested council members to attend and participate in subcommittee meetings, which will be open to the public.

Badeaux thanked Houle for that collaborative opportunity.

“I think that was the major concern that was being had — that these decisions are being made behind back room doors and that there isn’t oversight so that we can answer to the constituents, as we should,” Badeaux said.


About the program

Under the county’s program, small business grants will be limited to those with 50 or fewer employees that were temporarily closed due to executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz. Applicants must have a physical commercial location in Crow Wing County, whether owned or leased. The principal business owner must be a Minnesota resident.

Those ineligible for business grant funds are those providing professional services, such as accountants or attorneys; those who primarily generate income from gambling activities; or those who primarily sell pawned merchandise, guns, tobacco or vaping products.

As for nonprofit grants, eligible entities include those who can demonstrate an increase in demand for services or expenses due to COVID-19. The organization may also apply if it can make an impact for individuals or the community in response to the coronavirus or related issues. Houle said that impact could, for example, look like rental or mortgage assistance programs.

Nonprofits must also have a physical location in Crow Wing County and must have been operating since March 1, 2019. Those ineligible are religious organizations without a social services component.

Grant guidelines and applications are available on the county’s website or at . Applications are due Sept. 18.

Ideally, Houle said the county would like to approve all eligible applications, meaning grants may be less than $10,000. The funds, he added, will likely be doled out in December or January to assist businesses and organizations through the winter.

Other CARES funds

Brainerd received a total of $1,034,572 from the federal CARES Act. The money can be used for expenses made necessary due to COVID-19 between March 1 and Nov. 15 not budgeted for 2020. Funds cannot be used to replace lost revenue.

The city split those funds into three categories — expenditures to date, projected expenditures through Nov. 15 and grants.


The first category — pandemic-related costs from March 1 to present — has $190,341 worth of expenses and includes small business relief grants, the “You Betcha We’re Open” marketing campaign, work from home expenses, and personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for both the city and Brainerd Public Utilities.

Future expenses in the second category are estimated at about $450,000 and include access control systems at BPU, city hall, police department and fire station; work from home equipment; council chamber upgrades to televise meetings; more cleaning supplies and PPE; delinquent utility bills; phone system upgrades; and funds for a continued marketing campaign. The second category also includes about $100,000 worth of contingency funds.

The rest of the money is allocated to the grants.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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