The Town of Normal is using federal funds to launch a Small Business Relief Program that will offer companies with 50 or fewer full-time employees up to $15,000 in grants.
The town has received $450,000 from the Local CURE Economic Support program that uses federal dollars allocated to Illinois through the CARES Act. The City of Bloomington has a similar program.
“Each pandemic region received an allocation of funds. I think we had $3.9 million of CURE (Economic Support) funding available according to the notice of funding,” said Normal Assistant City Manager Eric Hanson. “We actually got more than we initially expected. It is what we applied for based on the need we saw in a business survey we did about 45 days ago. We are very pleased with that allocation and hope to get it out to our businesses as soon as possible.”
Hanson said the pandemic has been challenging for all businesses, but moreso for smaller retail stores, restaurants, bars and commercial operations that have been forced to either reduce traffic or close down altogether.
“We know there has been substantial impact to a number of types of businesses, and hopefully this can help some of those with their loss,” said Hanson.
The program will provide eligible businesses with grants of up to $15,000, divided into equal opportunities for awards of $5,000 in three categories: operational assistance, digital and marketing support, and business modification.
Operational assistance grants will help businesses with expenses related to sustaining business operations.
The digital and marketing support grants help businesses enhance their digital footprint. Businesses applying for that grant can receive an added boost, due to a unique partnership with Illinois State University.
“The intention of this particular piece was one of the feedback we got from businesses, that they needed technology and marketing expertise,” said Hanson. “So it was a means of trying to pair up some of our small businesses with university-related resources to help them expand their audience.”
Hanson said this grant was not geared just toward curbside pickup, converting to Grubhub or Uber Eats.
“Some businesses didn’t even have websites, or they weren’t familiar with taking advantage of social media or the many facets that go into the more digital marketing and the digital outreach of a retail-type business. This was an avenue for them to get some media assistance to help them through this. Ultimately, if it is successful, I suspect they will continue to do it long after the pandemic is gone because it will be good for their business,” said Hanson.
The town also work with educators from the ISU College of Business to pair students looking for real-world experience with businesses that need digital and marketing support.
“I see this as a win-win for everyone,” said Aaron Charlton, assistant professor of marketing at ISU. “Participating small business owners can improve their online image, increase visibility, or perhaps add systems such as online ordering. The students will gain valuable experience and a much-needed boost as they prepare to enter a challenging job market.”
According to the Town of Normal’s business survey, there were businesses in Normal that have experienced lost revenue up to and over $15,000.
“The target is for smaller businesses and it may cover rent, rent assistance, utilities. It may cover multiple months of utilities, payroll, past payroll expenses or modifications. We think, while it is not huge dollars, it is intended to offset some of those operational costs or modification costs,” said Hanson. “There’s another program through the state of Illinois, I think they have about $100 million allocated to the BIG program, which is directly through the state, where you can get much larger dollars for pandemic-related losses.”
Eligible businesses must meet several requirements for Normal’s program. Businesses have to have 50 or fewer full-time employees, have a physical location in Normal, be operational as of Jan. 1, show a loss of revenue due to COVID, and be up-to-date on all state of Illinois tax obligations.
To determine eligibility, businesses can use a pre-qualification form.
“The more substantial the operation, they will likely show greater loss, but the grant requires them to show a loss up to the amount they’re applying for,” said Hanson. “The intent of that is really just to ensure they’ve experienced a loss due to the pandemic.”
Applications, which will be available on the town’s website beginning Dec. 1, will be considered until all funds are depleted.
Funds awarded to local businesses are taxable; the town will provide a 1099-MISC form to those receiving grants.