Grants to businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the pandemic, infrastructure for a new business park on Blue Clay Road and programs designed to get people back to work are all part of a framework unanimously adopted by the Board of Commissioners for New Hanover County to use its allocation of American Rescue Plan funds.
The county is expected to receive an estimated $45.4 million in federal funds, with half of it coming in May and the second half arriving a year later. Since we wanted these funds to be put to use quickly to speed our recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19, county staff developed a framework early so the mechanics and details will be ready to go once the first wave of funds is transferred.
Our framework, I believe, addresses the economic and social impact of the pandemic under the spirit of the federal law and addresses priorities previously identified by the board.
First, and of interest to businesses, we plan to offer a new round of direct grants to businesses in a similar way the county provided $10,000 grants to 130 small businesses last year from our CARES Act appropriation. This new program will look different, in that we are expecting to provide grants scaled to the number of employees a business has and are looking to target some of the hardest-hit sectors in our community: the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, as well as childcare providers.
We plan to partner with the Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, who have a direct line of sight to these business, to help us administer the program. And are also planning to partner with the Cape Fear Collective to administer another grant program, providing grants to nonprofits who were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
We will also be investing in new job training programs through StepUp Wilmington to help provide paid training and job placement for more than 100 people, with a focus on long-term employment for our residents. We are also working on a possible opportunity to tailor some portions of these programs to bolster employment for our local film industry. I believe this is a significant initiative that can create a model for us into the future.
To further support economic development, we plan to provide water and sewer infrastructure for the Blue Clay Business Park in order to jumpstart business growth in Northern New Hanover County – something that we have long been visioning and working toward. And these funds make it possible to do in the near term, which is an exciting prospect for bringing new business into the county.
To support more opportunities for affordable housing, we are proposing to use a portion of the funds to build water and sewer infrastructure along a portion of Sidbury Road. The intention is to pay CFPUA's capacity fee for this extension, which is a fee typically incurred by developers. We believe this will help to lower development costs, thereby supporting construction of homes that can be priced more affordably for residents.
Another exciting program would provide broadband access to low-income residents throughout New Hanover County for two years. Barriers exist for many families to affordably access the internet, so we plan to partner with a broadband provider to pay for internet service in about 8,000 homes with school-aged children and who qualify for either Medicaid or Food and Nutrition Services.
We are also going to be focusing on mortgage assistance, mental health services for school children and seniors, enhancing the county’s emergency management plan, and numerous other initiatives. You can view an overview of our framework for investments here.
The overarching goal is to quickly inject cash into the community to spur economic recovery, help our residents recover from the pandemic, and ensure we are even more resilient for the future. I am grateful the Commissioners approved this framework that will allow us to get to work and be ready to make these programs a reality.
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.
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