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Talent has grant money for COVID-impacted businesses

Healthy Sustainable Communities was hired by the city to help manage grant programs. The firm put together a website, TalentGRANTS.com, which has the application form.

About $100,000 in grant money is available from the city of Talent for businesses and nonprofits impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications must be received by June 11.

Funding comes from the CARES Act approved by the federal government for pandemic relief in spring of 2020. The money needs to be distributed by June 30 or it must be sent back.

“Our businesses that are the economic engine for the city have taken a real hit, and also the nonprofits that often go unseen in helping the community,” said Jamie McLeod-Skinner, interim city manager.

As of June 3, 40 applications had been received from restaurants, retail outlets, nonprofits, health care and physical therapy providers and small repair facilities, said Jon Legarza, whose firm Healthy Sustainable Communities is administering the grant program for the city.

Ease of application is an emphasis for the grants. A simple, online application is designed to take no more than five minutes.

“We wanted to make it as simple as possible to apply for, and to just cast a really wide net,” said McLeod-Skinner. “The devil is in the details. If it is too restrictive, people are not applying, or if it is too onerous an application process.”

There are two criteria for applicants. The business or nonprofit must be based in Talent, and the organization’s financial situation must have been adversely impacted by COVID since March 2020. That can include such occurrences as shutdowns, capacity limits, modifications of operations or loss of sales. Financial losses are self-verified by the applicants, Legarza said.

Healthy Sustainable Communities was hired by the city to help manage grant programs. The firm put together a website, TalentGRANTS.com, which has the application form. Legarza is also executive director of the Talent Urban Renewal Agency, which is an independent entity separate from the city.

Company staff will begin screening applications the week of June 14 to verify that applicants meet the criteria. They expect to send a list of qualified applicants to the city within a couple of days. A city panel will review the applications and make awards. Legarza said checks should begin going out the week of June 21.

“We’ll go through all the metrics, then we submit the information to the city. Then the city makes the final determination. It’s basically their decision,” said Legarza.

The previous administration — before McLeod-Skinner was appointed in January — had left the money unspent, said Legarza. A limit on the size of awards has not been set.

McLeod-Skinner had made an informal study of business needs, primarily by walking around the downtown area, prior to announcement of the grant program. She talked with business owners and managers.

In her inquiry, McLeod-Skinner found that restaurants had taken substantial losses. In addition to closures, restrictions on the amount of indoor seating had a major impact. But the use of outdoor space also required restaurants to make financial investments to accommodate diners.

“I was surprised at how expensive some of those materials are,” said McLeod-Skinner, who mentioned construction of dividers among costs that drove up the price of doing business. Costs for PPE also affected businesses, she said. Talent Public Works had a supply of PPE, supplied by the state, that it delivered to businesses.

“Everyone knows that small businesses have a very small profit margin,” said McLeod-Skinner. Some town businesses were able to gain emergency funding offered by various agencies, some of it administered by Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc.

More normal activities are returning to town, said McLeod-Skinner, noting the revival of the Talent Artisans & Growers Friday evening market, which started May 25. The market will be held the last Friday of each month across from City Hall on Main Street.

The Artisans & Growers group, a nonprofit, has applied for a grant, Legarza reported. The nonprofit Talent Historical Society has also submitted an application.

Smaller cities such as Talent will likely receive American Rescue Plan funds designed to assist with COVID impacts in the fall, said Legarza. He said his staff may work on distribution of those funds depending upon the wishes of the City Council.

Information and the application can be found at TalentGRANTS.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.