Board approves business grants

Some businesses have not been able to survive the economic doldrums caused by the coronavirus. Down Home Floral Arrangements in the town of Louisa shut down in June, vacating this commercial building on East Main Street.

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors agreed to offer $10,000 grants to businesses that can demonstrate they have been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The county will use up to $750,000 of the $3.2 million it received from the federal government as coronavirus relief to pay for the grants. Businesses in sectors hit hardest by the crisis, such as hotels, restaurants and retail stores, will be given priority, although all businesses are eligible. Funds will be distributed by the county’s industrial development authority.

Andy Wade, Louisa County economic development director, said grant recipients can use the funding to assist with payroll, rent, insurance and other operating costs. He said some businesses might use the money to establish a website.

The supervisors voted 6-1 to establish the grant program. Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District) voted no. He said he thought the grants should be limited to $5,000 to enable funding to go farther, and said he was concerned there is no stipulation that family members of county employees cannot apply.

“I’d like to add that no business associated with a member of the board be eligible, or a spouse or child of a county employee,” Adams said. “I just think we should go the extra mile to ensure it’s completely transparent.”

Helen Phillips, county attorney, said the state’s conflict of interest law would probably bar any of the supervisors from applying for grants. 

Adams also requested that the $750,000 be allocated in three separate blocks, to give the board more control over the process as money is disbursed.

To be eligible, businesses must have a physical presence in the county, with annual gross receipts of less than $1 million. They must either have at least three full-time staff or have been forced to shut down normal services by Governor Ralph Northam’s executive orders in March, and be able to show a loss of at least 25 percent of revenue due to the virus. Nonprofit agencies and banks are not eligible.

Supervisor Toni Williams (Jackson District) wondered if there will be 75 businesses that meet the program criteria, given that only certain sectors sustained a direct impact from Northam’s orders.

“Obviously the larger the dollar amount, the better [for a business],” Wade said. “If you think of a restaurant, $10,000 is probably less than a week’s worth of expenses.”

Businesses must be current on their tax payments through March 1, Wade said. A restaurant that had trouble submitting meals taxes after that date due to a dropoff in sales would not be ineligible for a grant as a result.

Wade expects companies to submit a report after six months on how their recovery is going. If a business closes down or leaves the county within one year, they have to give the money back.

An application period of at least four or five days will begin in August, Wade said. All of the grant funding must be spent by the end of the year, per the terms of the federal CARES Act.

Some of the businesses that are eligible for the county’s grants likely were also eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, approved by Congress in March. The Small Business Administration released data this week showing that nearly 300 Louisa County firms received loans through the program. Recipients can convert the loans to grants if they kept staff employed through the spring who otherwise would have been furloughed or laid off.

All but 25 of the Louisa-based businesses supported through the program were given less than $150,000. The others were allocated between that amount and $2 million. 

S&N Communications, Inc., based in Ferncliff, was the only Louisa firm granted between $1 and $2 million. The company reported that it was able to retain 132 jobs, although many of those positions could be outside the county. A few firms, including I-Hop, which has a Zion Crossroads location, received between $350,000 and $1 million. A larger group of businesses with a more local focus, such as Cavalier Produce and Wayne’s Heating and Cooling, were in the $150,000 to $350,000 range.

The data can be accessed at this link: https://bit.ly/3iCWlWp.

Last updated at 1:08 p.m. on July 10.

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