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For County's $1.3M Small Business Grant Program, More Details Coming

By Cece Nunn and Christina Haley O'Neal, posted May 29, 2020
New Hanover County officials are expected to share more details Monday for a plan to devote $1.3 million in aid to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus crisis. 

The small business economic incentive grant program is the subject of a public hearing at the New Hanover County Commissioners meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the Wilmington Convention Center.

The 130 economically distressed businesses that receive the grants of $10,000 each will be randomly selected through a lottery and must be locally owned, located in New Hanover County and have fewer than 25 employees. Those who want to try for the grant will have to fill out a simple application, according to the county.

A presentation with more of the details will be shared immediately before the public hearing Monday, officials said.

Prior to the commissioners' meeting, the county is hosting a media roundtable at 11 a.m.

"The information we share at the roundtable will be embargoed until after the public hearing is held on Monday shortly after 4 p.m., to ensure the program is approved by commissioners first before the full details are shared publicly," stated the county in its update to media.

Further explaining the reasoning, county Chief Communications Officer Jessica Loeper said in an email Friday, "The public hearing is on the $1.3 million allocation of funds for the purpose of this grant program as an economic incentive. So we are not preventing that general information from being shared in advance, we are just limiting the detailed information (like the details on the application, where to go for the application, and the more program-specific details) to be shared after the public hearing.

"We want to ensure the full package of information is accurate and is finalized before it goes out. And we wanted to provide all of that to the media in advance, as a courtesy – to ensure your stories have all of the information and can go out as soon as possible after it is all approved.

​"Just to reiterate – the program will not be finalized until after the Commissioners vote on Monday. So to share the full details of the program before that vote like the application and how the application process will work, would be premature, because it would not be final and is subject to change."

The funding that will be used for the grant program was included in a spending plan earlier this month for the nearly $4.1 million the county received as part of the state's allocation of coronavirus relief funds.

Since the funds are part of an economic incentive program, a public hearing is required before appropriating the money for the grants.

County officials previously stated that the program "will provide economic incentive grants of $10,000 to economically distressed businesses for the purpose of addressing pandemic public impacts and business interruption on hiring/rehiring residents, business retention within New Hanover County, and/or premises expenditures to enhance public hygiene and safety."

Commissioners chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman began talking to county staff several weeks ago about implementing a program of this kind, county officials stated in an email.

A small team of county staff has since been working through the details and logistics. 

"The county has worked with partners and experts on small business loans to develop this program," Loeper said in an email.

Similar grant programs for small businesses have been in progress in other communities in the state, including Charlotte and Raleigh.

New Hanover County's overall $4.1 million in funding was in the $150 million the state allocated to local county governments from the $4 billion in coronavirus relief funds North Carolina received under the CARES Act.

County governments have control over the funds and are charged with distributing some of those funds to local municipalities. The money can be used by local governments for certain COVID-19-related expenses incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.

The complete details of the program and process will be shared on Monday at the commissioners meeting and will be available online immediately following the public hearing at nhcgov.com, official said.

Correction: This version of the story explains that there will be additional grant program details shared in a presentation immediately before the public hearing Monday. 
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