Rock County businesses hurt by the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for new grant funding to offset losses, but officials are looking to make sure businesses are prepared for future economic downturns rather than only providing short-term cash infusions.
Rock County has launched the Rock County Small Business and Nonprofit COVID-19 Grant Program that is funded through the county’s $32 million allocation from American Rescue Plan Act. A sum of $5 million was set aside from the ARPA funding total for the grant programs.
The maximum grant allocation award is $10,000 per applicant. The actual grant amount will be equal to the demonstrated amount of economic losses recorded in 2020.
“Many small businesses in Rock County continue their recovery from the consequences of the pandemic, and we are hopeful this funding makes a difference in helping them be successful for the long term,” Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said.
Rock County District 17 Supervisor Genia Stevens, who also serves as the executive director of Rock County Jumpstart, helped draft the resolution related to the grant program with the collaboration of former District 23 Supervisor Doug Wilde and District 25 Supervisor Stephanie Aegerter.
Through her role at Rock County Jumpstart, a group founded by Stevens aimed at supporting Black small-business owners in Rock County, Stevens was able to identify business needs that weren’t being met, including helping them be more prepared for disasters and economic downturns.
“Something that has always concerned me when we get federal funding for economic relief is that there’s no disaster preparedness planning and no forward thinking about what we are going to do down the road,” Stevens said. “There’s money to pay the bills, but there’s never been any planning about what was going to happen in the future.”
Stevens said the Rock County approach through providing grant funding is unique because the support program will allow for funding a position with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center that will coordinate business assistance with Rock County stakeholders such as the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce or Forward Janesville. The designated position will be funded with federal dollars, Stevens confirmed.
“Although businesses are in need of cash infusions, they also need to get better at financial management, and we are calling that financial wellness and that’s a major part of resiliency planning,” Stevens said. “My hope is that this program will help create businesses that are more sustainable and improve their life cycle so that businesses harmed by the pandemic will still be around in five years.”
A second business aid fund, the COVID-19 Emergency Small Business Loan Fund, is funded through countywide sales and use tax revenue. Eligibility is primarily determined by an applicant’s ability to document a decline in revenue or sales of 25% or more because of the pandemic. Maximum loan amounts are capped at $5,000, with interest rates up to 2% and terms not to exceed five years.
Rock County Board Chair Richard Bostwick said he hopes the grant program will help make businesses and their employees whole again.
“Hopefully, the overall business climate will improve, and these businesses can thrive into the future and be a contributing piece of Rock County’s economy,” Bostwick said.
The programs are administered through the Rock County’s Planning, Economic & Community Development Department, and participating businesses must work with University of Wisconsin Small Business Development Centers or their contracted designated service providers.
To learn more about the program, visit rcbizgrants.org.