Area EDCs reaching out to their business communities

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

There’s no business like the business that’s already a part of the community, and that reality is not lost on local communities as everyone feels the crunch of the pandemic.

To try and ease the pain felt by existing businesses, a pair of local area economic development corporations – in Bertram and Leander – have rolled out plans to use some of their funds on hand to help those businesses make ends meet.

“This city council is putting their money where their mouth is,” said Evan Milliorn, Economic Development Managing Partner in Leander. “They are truly wanting to do whatever they can. It is not a lot by any stretch, but it’s something. I think it is great to watch our council and city manager step up to the plate and try to provide some relief in this stressful time our local businesses are experiencing.”

The Leander COVID-19 Emergency Business Grant program is being funded through the Old Town Incentive Program, which currently has $208,000 in unused funds for 2020.

In Bertram, the EDC has also taken funds — where it has them to spare — to lend a hand.

“We saw that Burnet, Cedar Park and a few others were doing things for their small businesses so we came together as a group and decided we should do something for the small businesses in our city because we knew there were some that were hurting,” said Bertram EDC President David Custer. “We’re not a big EDC, we don’t have deep deep pockets, but we felt like we have enough businesses that create a tax base in our city and help us out that we need to do something for them.”

The Leander program is offering grants for between $2,500 and $5,000, while the Bertram plan is for $1,000 per business for up to 15 total grants.

Both programs were conceived and launched quickly, knowing how important it is to get assistance funds in the hands of business owners quickly.

“We spent quite a bit of time on it to come up with the program,” Custer said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a few bankers on the EDC, some Realtors, and we all live right there. It was something we felt we had to do and we needed to do it then and not drag it out into a next meeting. We wanted to make sure when we sat down we’d work it out while we were there.”

In Leander, they saw quick grants as a way to help while businesses waited for other programs to be funded.

“What the Mayor had asked several weeks ago was for us to come up with a way to provide some gap financing before all the federal money rolls in for all the small business owners,” Milliorn said. “We have had the Old Town Grant Program for a long time, so we found our funding source. We were able to tap that grant program, and amend it to create a sub program.”

Both programs require city council approval, and have a variety of stipulations.

“You are eligible for the grant pending City Council approval, but then each applicant must show how they spent the money,” Milliorn said. “They have to demonstrate that the money went toward utilities, payroll, critical business supplies, items along those lines.”

In Leander, lease expenses are a primary concern.

“Approximately 70 percent of our small business owners lease a space,” Milliorn said. “Rent can range from around $1,000 to as much as $7,500 a month for some of these businesses.”

The Bertram EDC decided to manage the program on a first-come first-served basis, assuming some basic parameters were met.

“We talked about doing loans, but decided to let the banks do loans for this,” Custer said. “We are just doing this as grants, as long as businesses aren’t delinquent on sales tax payments and up to date on codes and ordinances. We debated quite a bit how to do it and we said the first 15 to turn it in as the only way to decide without being biased.”

Both city councils will consider the first batch of applicants this week, and any remaining funds will be considered at their next meeting based on applications received.

“We anticipate there will be another batch later in April or the first part of May,” Milliorn said of applicants in Leander. “Our goal will be to, once council has approved the applicants, is to have a check in their hand within seven business days. This is not going to be a drawn out process.”

In Leander, applicants must meet the following criteria:
• Must be located in the corporate city limits of Leander.
• Must comply with all applicable zoning, land use, and other ordinances.
• Must employ 50 or fewer personnel.
• Must be registered with the State Comptroller’s Office.
• Must be current on all property and sales taxes due and must show evidence of payroll taxes withheld and remitted.
• Applicant must demonstrate that a negative financial impact occurred due to COVID-19.
• Applicant must submit a balance sheet. Other financial records such as a profit-and-loss statements may also be requested for review.
Bertram businesses must meet the following guidelines:
• Applicant must be a retail, restaurant, or service business.
• The business must have a physical location in the corporate city limits of the city of Bertram. (Bricks and mortar, not solely a home business or online sales).
• All funds provided by the EDC must be used solely for operating expenditures for the business located at the address provided for in the application.
• The need for the funds must be a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Proof of applicant’s ownership of the business (W-9) shall be required.
• Business principals who have ownership in multiple businesses may only receive one grant.
• Non-profit organizations are not eligible for this program.
• The applicant must have a valid sales tax number and be in good standing with the State Comptroller. They must have generated (collected and remitted to the State) city sales tax for the past 12 months or since start date and must furnish corresponding documentation with the application.
• The applicant must not be delinquent on property or sales taxes due and must be compliant with all city ordinances and codes.

Applications for both grants can be found on the respective city websites.

Both cities know the importance of supporting existing local businesses, and like other programs, this new grant is one more way to lend a hand.

“It is hard to keep businesses and we do a few things we can such as sign grants, and other ways to help make upgrades,” Custer said. “We try to do a good job of retaining people and helping the businesses that come into town.”

It is about investing in those who have made an investment in the community.

“This is critical,” Milliorn said. “Business retention is the backbone to what we call economic development at the local level. It is absolutely critical to help your existing investors who have already made that investment in the community and are creating employment opportunities. I know our City Council and city management fully understand the importance of the business retention component and that’s exactly why you see a grant program like this come to be.”

To date, the Liberty Hill EDC has not made an announcement regarding loan or grant opportunities for local businesses, and the issue was not on the board’s agenda at its last meeting March 16.

Mayor Rick Hall said April 17 that he has mentioned the idea to the EDC and it would be discussed, but no timetable has been established.

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