By: Thomas Sherrill, The News Reporter
Eighty-four local businesses hurt by the pandemic will receive checks ranging from $500 to $2,500 from a local grant program. The Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism administered the program, which was funded by the Columbus County Board of Commissioners using federal CARES Act money.
“I sent emails today that let [the selected businesses] know of the success of the award, and I got back a lot of thank-yous. It was humbling,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “Several had mentioned how it would help and showed appreciation for the county and chamber working on their behalf.”
The grants totaled $150,000, using federal funds allocated by the county board of commissioners on Dec. 7.
In total, the Chamber received 103 grant applications in an 11-day period in mid-December. A committee of eight local leaders, including County Commissioner Charles McDowell and Finance Director Bobbie Faircloth, reviewed those applications.
“It was a great example of partnership with public and private working together to help our small businesses,” Holcomb said. “This pandemic has caused hardship for everyone, every business. There are very few offers of assistance for our small businesses. We want to help them; they are our backbone to our community.”
The quick turnaround from implementation to awards was due to the previous deadline of the end of December for spending CARES Act funding. However, Holcomb said Wednesday that the spending deadline was extended one year by federal legislation that recently became law and that there was no immediate rush to cash the checks by the end of December.
How were businesses selected?
The committee met four times, Holcomb said, to look through the 103 applications and determine if the businesses met certain factors. Applicants had to be located in Columbus County, employ 25 or fewer people and “have experienced significant economic hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns.”
The biggest factor was economic loss, comparing business from March 1 to Dec. 1 in 2019 to the same time period in 2020.
Other factors in the application review process included whether or not an applicant business had received other funding, COVID-19 restrictions placed on the business and describing the future of the business after COVID-19, which Holcomb said would help the committee determine if the business would be viable post-pandemic.
“They worked fabulously together, much harder than we originally thought,” Holcomb said. “One committee member worked on Christmas night after everything calmed down at the house.”