For the fourth article of the Herald’s question and answer series between Mower County Board of Commissioners – District 1 candidates Tim Duren and John Mueller, we asked the candidates the following question: What steps, if any, do you believe the County should take to help Mower County businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic?
Here are their responses.
Before I suggest what the Mower County Board should do to help struggling businesses, we have to look back at what has been done and what the County’s role has been in helping Mower County businesses during this difficult time.
As the state imposed restrictions and shutdowns and people had to change how and where they shopped, businesses continued to suffer. Financial assistance programs to help businesses were developed and became available.
There were several programs and honestly, it can be a bit confusing researching the programs and their effects. In addition to forgivable loans originating from the Small Business Administration, other programs directed funds to government agencies to be disseminated in the form of grants to businesses, agencies, individuals, and families that have been financially impacted by the coronavirus.
The federal government provided funds to government agencies in the form of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Mower County designated $1,000,000 to be awarded to businesses to help cover specific costs or losses. Businesses had to apply and qualify in order to receive funds. Well over 100 Mower County small businesses received grants through the CARES Act. Additional funds were used to help non-profits, schools, utilities, as well as families and individuals struggling with rent and mortgages.
Another round of grant funds came from Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) program. Mower County was awarded nearly $792,000 to aid small businesses. These awards were grants of $5,000 to $25,000 with a focus on businesses that had been most deeply impacted by restrictions and shut downs, such as restaurants, bars, and gyms. Hotels were included in this group as their rooms sat mostly empty due to the lack of events and travel.
Most recently, the American Rescue Act was enacted. It is my understanding this will provide $7.8 million to Mower County in two allotments. The county will receive $3.9 million in 2021 and again in 2022. Reading the US Treasury’s March 18 Fact Sheet, it appears the county will be able to direct funds to infrastructure, broadband, property mortgage, rental assistance, and areas that will not only help recovery, but promote growth in the future.
So in answering the question of what should Mower County do to help businesses recover, I think that process has been ongoing and it is my hope that some of the funds from this latest program can be used to help businesses not only recover, but grow by funding infrastructure and business needs and ideas. This conversation among commissioners and stakeholders will continue beyond the April 13 District 1 election and I am hopeful the voters will elect me to be a part of those conversations.
The past year has been one unlike any of us has ever experienced. COVID hit with its fears and uncertainties. We have all made sacrifices and the County has been doing its part to support us, its constituents, and our businesses.
When I started attending the county commissioner’s meetings last year upon my decision to run for election, the concern they had for local businesses was clearly evident. While the board faced challenges, they continued to prioritize COVD-related concerns along with providing the normal county services. Recently the board oversaw the distribution of over $700,000 in grant money received from the state that was given to businesses adversely affected by the shutdown orders allowed by the governor’s executive orders. I believe we need to continue to be looking for other sources of funding that could assist our businesses. We are in the process of vaccinating the citizens of Mower County. I believe we need to continue to see that enough vaccines are available to those that want them. The vision all along has been that vaccination will allow for a return to normalcy and for a loosening of restrictions which will help all businesses.
The best thing I have seen come out of this is a stronger sense of community and the way we have cared for each other. I have seen people make an intentional commitment to support their local businesses. I have seen small businesses start up with strong online support. I have heard of neighbors helping neighbors. We as people of this county have to continue to encourage each other and take ownership of where we live and show concern for those around us. If elected as your county commissioner, I would encourage this sense of community and continued support for our businesses. And as has been discussed in this forum of questions, I would work hard at doing what we can to keep taxes stable to allow for growth to a pre-COVID status for businesses in Mower County.
For the first, second and third question and answer articles, see the March 13, 2021, March 20, 2021, and March 27, 2021, editions of the Austin Daily Herald.