Private, public sectors step up with COVID relief funds
Public, private and nonprofit groups are pooling resources to inject new capital into the region’s small businesses as they attempt to reopen amid ongoing pandemic restrictions.
On Aug. 10, a public-private partnership in San Luis Obispo launched a new grant program supported by private donations and federal CARES Act funding. Union Bank, which has 29 branches in the region, announced its launch on Aug. 6 of a $10 million grant program to support workforce development and small business recovery. And the city of Goleta debuted a program on Aug. 5 that provides grants and loans to businesses in need.
For many business owners, costs have spiked at the moment revenue streams have slimmed, said SLO Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Dantona.
Restaurants and retail locations are “needing a lot more labor,” he said. “Those costs have gone up, while the amount of customers you can serve has gone down.”
That’s where a $260,000 grant program through the city of San Luis Obispo hopes to fill the gap, with quick $5,000 grants for 52 small businesses.
In its first 24 hours, the program was already oversubscribed, with around 120 applicants. A similar program in April, funded by software firm Comevo, received some 600 applications overall for just $75,000 in grants.
“The unfortunate part of all of this is that the need is so great, there’s no chance we’re going to be able to fill all the applications,” Dantona said.
While many of the grants will support basic needs like payroll and rent, a loan program through the city of Goleta and several nonprofit partners is also geared toward helping businesses relaunch, invest in efficiency initiatives, boost their online capacity or “reinvent their business a bit,” said Marni Brook, director of lending for Women’s Economic Ventures.
WEV administered Quick Response Loans throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and manages the new ReStart loan program that launched Aug. 5. The program offers grants up to $10,000 administered through Santa Barbara Better Together Fund and loans up to $25,000.
The fund was developed “in anticipation of businesses needing some extra capital to open their doors again, to restock shelves, to potentially invest in their online stores and other working capital,” Brook said.
The program is geared toward applicants “who intend to use this capital in more sort of forward-thinking, strategic ways,” she said, such as new product lines in response to the pandemic, or some who have changed locations as new vacancies have opened up and need to get the word out.
Meanwhile, a separate Community Recovery Program launched by Union Bank in the first week of August aims to reach underserved communities in its territories and help minority owned businesses achieve scale with $10 million in grants.
The funds are being directed into three categories: rebuilding the workforce, building financial security and small business recovery efforts. Grants can support for work re-entry, green jobs, financial education, business accelerators and micro-loan programs.
The grant programs come at a critical time for businesses who might have “a little bit of borrowing fatigue,” Brook said.
“This is still a bit of an uncertain time, so in some cases they’re really being thoughtful about whether or not they want to take on additional debt,” she said. “They always have need of capital, but I do think they are taking a step back and really evaluating whether that’s the right thing to do right now.”
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