An excess of coronavirus relief funds could provide an opportunity for more businesses to secure grants.
Tyler Glynn, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp., told the Brainerd City Council Monday, Sept. 21, Crow Wing County received 247 viable applications for its small business relief grants funded by money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Forty additional applications came from businesses outside Crow Wing County — some even outside Minnesota.
Brainerd pooled $300,000 of its CARES Act funds with the county for the program, which included $3 million from Crow Wing County, along with funds from other county entities. So far there is $3.69 million available for the program from cities of Baxter, Brainerd, Breezy Point, Crosby, Deerwood, Emily, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa, and Jenkins, Long Lake and Perry townships. Glynn said there are some entities still on the fence about contributing money, and he expects the fund to grow.
BLAEDC is in charge of the program, which will provide grants up to $10,000 to Crow Wing County-based businesses with 50 or fewer employees that were temporarily closed during the pandemic due to executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz.
The 247 businesses that applied requested $2,328,125. Of those applicants, 101 were from Brainerd, requesting $899,150. Brainerd’s $300,000 will be used first for these grants, with the county kicking in the rest of the funds. But even after all county applications are funded, roughly $1.36 million is still left over.
“I encourage feedback from those of you that have pooled your money into this,” Glynn told the council. “Give us ideas if there’s some direction that folks would like to see this go.”
Glynn said the most logical next step seems to be opening up another round of applications to larger county businesses with more than 50 employees. He expects about 25 more businesses to qualify under those standards, as there are 125 businesses in Crow Wing County with more than 100 employees, and about 28% were deemed non-essential and shut down.
Dental practices were already added in, he said, noting about 20-22 dentists offices in the county applied for grants, as they were forced to shut down for elective surgeries and procedural services by Executive Order 20-09. Glynn said the county is also looking at widening the scope to chiropractors and other medical offices affected by the same executive order.
“I think we should be open to every possible scenario because the last thing anybody wants to do is give this money back,” Glynn said. “So we’re going to do our very best to make sure that it gets out.”
The Crow Wing County Board has the ultimate say in terms of doling out grant funds, but Glynn said feedback from contributing cities and townships is welcome.
Council President Gabe Johnson asked about increasing the grants about $10,000, which is something Glynn said the county board has discussed but not yet decided on.
Council member Kelly Bevans suggested not going that route, as businesses would then have to reapply, going through the whole process again. Instead, he said opening it up to more businesses would be better, as there were many businesses that weren’t forced to close or even couldn’t close but still felt the effects of COVID-19. The difficult part, though, is the funds come with the stipulation they cannot be used to recoup lost revenue, only to cover coronavirus-related expenses. In his preliminary review of the applications, Glynn said about 30-40% of them listed expenses related to revenue loss, which will not be eligible for grant funds.
“It’s going to be challenging,” he said.
Glynn invited council members to sit in on the meeting later this week with himself, county commissioners Paul Koering and Steve Barrows, and Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson when they review applications.
The county’s grant program also includes funds for nonprofits affected by the pandemic. The city contributed $100,000 to the fund, which has a total of $1,125,000 in it that will be administered by United Way. Eighty-seven nonprofit applications came in, requesting $785,000.
Glynn said he isn’t sure how many of those applications came from Brainerd nonprofits but will likely have that information later this week. He said he’ll let the city know when those responsible for the funds plan to meet so council members can attend if they wish.