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Centre County small businesses getting $3 million

BELLEFONTE — The Centre County commissioners are coming to the rescue.

On Tuesday, the board of commissioners unveiled plans for a new Small Business Grant Program, which will pump $3 million into local businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant comes just prior to the start of a busy fall season, which will see fans back in Centre County for the start of the 2021 Penn State football season.

The $3 million is funded by the American Rescue Plan. Centre County received $31 million from that plan.

Commissioner Mark Higgins presented the plan during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

“In very early September, the tourist season in Centre County is really going to ramp up,” Higgins explained. “We’re going to have football. Based on what I’m seeing in other parts of the country that had a lot of tourism visits in June and July, I think it’s going to be really, really busy here in Centre County.”

With that in mind, Higgins, said, the Small Business Grant Program will help give Centre County the jump start it needs.

“Our small businesses, our retailers, our hospitality firms are going to be in desperate need of what’s called working capital. So, Centre County Government is going to work to help provide that,” Higgins said.

To be eligible, businesses must have fewer than 500 full-time employees on staff. To expand the program, businesses that aren’t headquartered here but have more than half of its payroll in Centre County will also be eligible for a grant. Businesses must be operational at the time of application and plan to stay in business until at least Dec. 31, 2021.

According to Higgins, the funds can be spent on operating expenses — payroll, rent, mortgage, utilities and costs of goods. However, the funds cannot be used to start a new business.

The grants, he said, will range from $2,000 to $20,000, in $2,000 increments. The size of the grant will be based on the dollar amount of the businesses reductions in sales in 2019-2020.

The commissioners said that the average grant will be around $10,000 to $12,000.

“It’s a grant, it’s not a loan, you don’t need to pay it back,” Higgins said.

Higgins described the grant money as “flexible.” The application process began on Tuesday. Funds will be distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

“When the $3 million is gone, the Centre County Commissioners’ Small Business Grant Program will be finished,” Higgins said.

Business owners should apply through the SEDA-COG website at www.seda-cog.org. SEDA-COG will assist in review of applications.

At the conclusion of the grant, the commissioners will have distributed more than $10 million in federal and state COVID-relief funds over the past nine months, Higgins said.

“This is one of the highest county government totals in Pennsylvania both in terms of raw dollars and as a percentage of COVID grants received,” Higgins said.

According to chair Michael Pipe, the application process is an easy one.

“This should be something that in 15, 30 minutes, they should have the documents available … very simple, very direct. We do recognize that there are businesses out there that haven’t received any money as of yet. This should be one of the most streamlined processes that they’ll go through,” Pipe said.

Grant money must be spent by the end of 2021.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners:

— Approved a Letter of Commitment to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) confirming $16,000 has been committed to continue the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Rental Assistance Program for the period of Jan. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2022.

— Approved a proposal from PBCI-Allen to install additional HVAC equipment in the 911 equipment room. The proposal total is $11,435, which is eligible for PEMA Act 12 Funding for the period of July 27, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021.

— Approved an intergovernmental housing agreement with Potter County. The contract rate is $65 per day for the period of July 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2023.

— Approved a quote from Qualtrics for data collection software to be used for grant applications. The contract total is $5,000 for the period of Aug. 7, 2021 to Aug. 6, 2022.

All of the items were moved to next week’s consent agenda.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 27. The meeting is open to the public and will be televised live by C-NET.

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