BAXTER — For the first time in more than 14 months, the Baxter City Council was once again in session in city hall Tuesday, June 1.
The city council members and staff resumed their seats along the raised platform at the front of the council chambers. No masks. No social distancing. When the council met on March 27, 2020, in a morning emergency session, the council, staff and a few audience members in attendance were seated 6 feet apart.
The council declared a local emergency in the wake of the early uncertain days of the coronavirus pandemic. Temporary measures to help deter the spread of the virus were set to expire April 7, 2020, and so at that March 27 meeting, the council adopted a COVID-19 operations plan with staff working from home and all city council meetings being conducted virtually.
Tuesday, the meeting was still available virtually, but this time the council and staff were back together.
First up on Tuesday’s agenda was an update from Tyler Glynn, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.
“Thank you for having me this evening and it’s an honor to be at the first live meeting since they lifted some of the restrictions. You are opening up with a good one here.”
Glynn provided an update on BLAEDC, which created its first annual report in a digital format this year in its 35-year history. In March, BLAEDC had its first virtual annual meeting with a focus on broadband.
“It was nice. I hope we don’t have to ever do it again,” Glynn said.
Glynn noted BLAEDC recently completed a child care study, including focus groups, surveys to businesses, school districts and private in-home day cares.
“Certainly one of the biggest issues that we face in Crow Wing County is a very, very large shortage of child care,” Glynn said. “And it is an issue that is throughout the state but it is very prevalent here in Crow Wing County.”
Glynn said the study shows the area lost 30-35 in-home day care facilities in the area during the pandemic.
“We are also working with the YMCA in addressing some of the shortages,” Glynn said. “... We have 4-500 open slots here in Crow Wing County as of today that are without child care. It’s a very large need in our community.”
The Unified Fund received its fourth application to request gap funding assistance, including one in Baxter, for this year. In total, since the Unified Fund started in 2017, 16 loans were funded using the fund to bring in and retain jobs.
The Unified Fund, a revolving pool of funds, was pulled together from smaller funds that were often underutilized in the community. The money came from the cities of Brainerd, Baxter, Crosslake and Deerwood, Crow Wing County, Consolidated Telephone Company, Crow Wing Power, BLAEDC and Crow Wing County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. To date, $1.1 million went out in loans. Currently, just more than $500,000 is outstanding. Glynn said there has never been one late payment. Glynn credited the businesses, participating banks and the Unified Fund’s board and the vetting process. On its website, BLAEDC lists $70,000 as the average loan size and 191 jobs created or retained.
Glynn said BLAEDC is in the process of a full rebranding to the organization and upgrade to its website.
Glynn also provided an overview of money administered through the 2020 coronavirus relief funds and economic assistance grants from the state. BLAEDC handled the grants to for-profit companies and the United Way handled the grants to nonprofits in Crow Wing County.
Overall, Glynn said 116 businesses were assisted in Baxter and funded through the coronavirus relief funds to include just over $1 million. In some cases, Glynn said the funds were able to assist in identifying some shortcomings such as technology upgrades for companies. The process also allowed BLAEDC to reach out to businesses that may not have dealt with the organization previously. BLAEDC is continuing to work on all things related to economic development, Glynn said, thanking the city of Baxter for its support.
Mayor Darrel Olson asked what the response was from the community for the assistance. He asked if the majority of people were satisfied or if there was a shortage in grant money.
Glynn said there were many sources for funding.
“From my dealings with it, Mayor Olson, everyone was extremely pleased with the assistance that they were provided. More would have always helped.”
The first round didn’t get through nearly enough funding, Glynn said. For the second round, the organization even knocked on doors to tell people about the funding and who was able to apply, and that worked out well in reaching people to make sure they knew the opportunity was there for them.
There will potentially be more funding available, Glynn said, but economic assistance grants aren’t being talked about at this time. And Glynn said they aren’t hearing from businesses seeking more assistance either.
Glynn said the help was needed at the time and they felt they could always have done more in terms of awareness as people continued to call after the grant application deadline passed.
“I know it helped,” Glynn said of the funding. “If there would have been more, people certainly would have been able to take advantage of it.”
“It was a good thing. It was a shot in the arm,” Olson said.
By the numbers on coronavirus relief
247 applicants received.
$2.3 million in funding requests
70 applicants approved for funding in Baxter.
$899,150 was approved in funding for those Baxter applications.
$3.69 million was allocated to Crow Wing County.
11 nonprofits in Baxter were funded with $99,006 dispersed in funds with 88 applications received and total fund requests of $822,309.