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MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — The cities of Monmouth and Independence are working together to help local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had the opportunity to jump on some funding assistance that Business Oregon announced just about two weeks ago,” Suzanne Dufner, community development director told Monmouth City Council at their May 19 meeting. “How fast everything is flying. The applications for the grant were due on (May 18).”

Council unanimously approved the use of $60,000 of economic development loan funds to match the grant funds.

The Business Oregon grant is geared toward cities that have existing loan programs or can quickly establish one, she said.

“It’s a one-to-one match,” Dufner said. “Whatever funds the city puts in, the state will match that 50 percent.”

The city of Independence will be the fiscal agent, and the Mid-Valley Council of Governments will review and approve applications.

“One of the good silver linings about the pandemic is that we’re learning to work together with our partners,” Dufner said. “I’ve been working with Shawn Irvine (Independence economic development director) pretty closely these last couple of months. (We’ve) developed a good partnership. He has a lot of grant experience and success in completing projects.”

Irvine said Independence and Monmouth are a “logical unit of work for the purposes of this grant.”

“We can both offer the same program with the same terms, promote it, and have a unified response to people asking questions or submitting applications,” he said. “If we had each applied separately with different program proposals we might have caused a lot of confusion among our local businesses — not to mention if one of us received the grant and the other didn’t.”

The state has guidelines targeting businesses that haven’t already received federal disaster funding, Dufner said.

“They’re trying to get businesses that may have slipped through the cracks, especially sole proprietors and disadvantaged businesses, women- and minority-owned businesses.”

Nonprofits can also be eligible for these funds, she said.

“The State defines ‘historically disadvantaged’ as Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Women-owned Businesses,” Irvine said. “We do not currently have outreach underway because we don’t want to get hopes up if we aren’t awarded, but will be starting ASAP once we hear.”

Outreach will be a mix of person-to-person communication and email/social media blasts, he said.

“We have a pretty thorough contact list of local businesses from our community partners and the business development programs we’ve put on,” Irvine said. “This will help a lot for targeted outreach. I should emphasize that while we are making a special effort to reach out to historically disadvantaged populations, the program would be first come first served.”

Dufner said, like Independence, Monmouth sent out a survey to local businesses.

“Just over half of the survey responses have actually received some sort of federal funding – the payroll protection program seems to be the most popular one that people were able to be successful with. There certainly were some survey respondents that haven’t received any funding and some of them replied they don’t want to apply for any loan funding.”

She said what businesses can use the money for is broadly defined – operating expenses, rent, payroll, purchasing.

“We’ll have the applications translated into Spanish and we’ll be doing some outreach to some disadvantaged population groups before the formal announcement is made,” Dufner said.

The timeline submitted to Business Oregon has outreach starting this week and application review starting June 1.

“We want to make sure those businesses that aren’t always connected through things like (Monmouth Business Association) and (Independence Downtown Association) also hear about this,” said Mayor Cec Koontz. “I think that will be all of our jobs to get the word out if we go forward this.”

The Dallas City Council also approved applying for the grants at its May 18 meeting. It will use $100,000 of its revolving loan fund held by the Polk Community Development Corporation as matching funds. The fund is used for housing rehabilitation.

Links to more information about this program will be included in the online version of this story at Polkio.com.

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