Small business owners struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may have a little help on the way.
Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday morning to create a COVID-19 economic hardship grant program, approving $100,000 of funding.
Economic Development Director Shannon Ogletree said this program is essential during a time when businesses have been forced to close and partially close due to social distancing.
“This would help our restaurants, help our florists, help venues,” he said.
The program will offer $2,500 grants to businesses impacted negatively by the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike community bridge loans offered through the Small Business Administration, these grants would not require repayment.
The grants will be open to any business with 20 employees or fewer, and there is a requirement that the business have a loss of business of at least 25% since the pandemic started. The program would be administered by the Small Business Development Center.
District 4 County Commissioner Dave Piech praised the program pointing out the SBDC will be able to make better decisions about where to allocate the grants.
“They are the experts at determining small business needs,” he said.
The program will replace the county’s current StRIVE Grant cycle for this budget year. StRIVE grants are designated to assist businesses in sprucing up their facades and signage to improve business.
Two StRIVE grant applications already submitted were approved for $5,000 each. Mike’s Garden in Gulf Breeze applied to replace all windows and beautify the exterior, and Sport & Wheat CPA in Pace is seeking to install shutters, gutters and a handicap ramp.
The remaining $40,000 from the StRIVE Grant program will be rolled into the COVID-19 response fund. An additional $60,000 was allocated from the Economic Development Office’s portion of the electric franchise fee.
With the set aside funds, the county would be able to give out 40 grants at the maximum $2,500.
Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Chanda Ryan said the proposed grants could not come at a better time.
“I think its an awesome program. So many of our small businesses are hurting right now, especially our restaurants and retailers,” she said.
Ryan said vacation rentals and other tourism businesses are feeling the strain with the beaches closed.
“I believe this will help everyone,” she said.
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