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County government creates grant program to help local businesses hurt by COVID-19

SALISBURY — Help is on the horizon for some local small businesses.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Monday night approved a grant program that will distribute $350,000 to small businesses by the end of the year.

“We know that small businesses who were required to close during the early stages of the pandemic struggled, and this is a way to provide funding to those businesses to reimburse the cost of the business interruption,” said County Manager Aaron Church.

Funding for the grant will be allocated from the county’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. The county received $5.32 million in total funding and set aside $1.37 million for municipalities. The rest has been used to provide COVID-19 testing, to make upgrades to the county’s facilities to prevent the spread of the virus and to purchase personal protective equipment, among other projects.

With funds still remaining after those projects, commissioners directed county staff to turn their attention to providing relief for local businesses that have been most impacted by the pandemic. 

Other municipalities across the country and state have implemented similar programs, including Durham, which established a Small Business Recovery Fund earlier this year. The federal government provided relief to businesses months ago through the Paycheck Protection Program, but some local businesses struggled to get their share of available funds.

“We’re hoping this grant will be streamlined and will be very easy for small businesses to access,” said Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.

During the meeting on Monday night, Church presented commissioners with the grant’s parameters and timeline. Church proposed that applications for the grant be opened on Dec. 1 and closed on Dec. 6, but commissioners said they wanted to move the process up. Now, applications will be available in person on the second floor of the Rowan County Administration Building and online at rowancountync.gov starting Nov. 23 at noon.  The application process will close Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. 

Grants will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible businesses. Church said he encourages businesses to be prepared with the necessary information before the application process opens. Applicants will need to fill out a grant request application; a statement describing how COVID-19 adversely impacted the business, including dates and times the business was closed; most recent tax returns; and a payroll, including IRS form 941 or equivalent. If a business is unable to provide tax returns or the 941 form, it must provide a written explanation as to why not.

To be eligible, a business must be a for-profit venture with a brick-and-mortar address in Rowan County and must not have more than 25 full-time employees. Franchises are only eligible if the franchisor is independent and locally owned. The businesses must have been operating since March 1, 2019.

Businesses that have between one to 5 full-time employees or are a sole proprietor will be eligible to receive $3,500. Businesses with six to 25 employees will be eligible to receive $5,000. Businesses also must prove that they had to close for at least two weeks due to Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders.

“The intent is, whether we get to the intent or the spirit of the program, is for those that had to stop working and (were unable to) produce an income for themselves,” Church said. He listed examples as barber shops, restaurants,  dentists, gyms and salons.

Businesses will not be eligible if they meet any of the following:

  • Business has filed for bankruptcy anytime in the last three years.
  • Business has open judgments or tax liens.
  • Business has delinquent Rowan County property taxes.
  • Nonprofits.
  • Real estate investment firms, when the real property is held for investments.

The applications will be screened and verified by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, which is receiving $35,000 to administer the program. The Chamber will also be responsible for distributing the funds no later than Dec. 18. Although the chamber is responsible for carrying out the grants, a small business does not need to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce in order to be eligible.

Spalding said that the grant will be critical for small businesses.

“I’m really glad they are doing this. There are a lot of small businesses that can benefit from this,” Spalding said. “It’ll help get them through the next couple months until hopefully we have a vaccine and people can get out and about and we can get back to some sort of normal.”

Spalding said that out of the roughly 3,000 businesses in Rowan County, she thinks a “good chunk” will be eligible for the grant program. Spalding said that funds from the grant could help businesses pay for extra staff during the holiday season or catch up on rent payments and other bills.

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