SNOW HILL – Worcester County Economic Development aims to help local businesses with $2.28 million in grant funding.
The Worcester County Commissioners this week approved plans for a grant program that will offer $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000 grants to local businesses and agricultural producers. The program was made possible with $2.28 million in federal funds from the CARES Act.
“Our office gets calls every day from various businesses struggling as it relates to COVID-19,” said Tom Perlozzo, the county’s director of recreations, parks, tourism and economic development. “It could be workforce, it could be PPE, it could be just making lease payments.”
Perlozzo told the commissioners his office planned to create a hybrid committee of local citizens with expertise in various industries paired with members of the Economic Development Advisory Board. The committee would be tasked with reviewing grant applications and recommending which applicants receive funding.
“In addition, there is a follow-up to make sure the CARES act funding was spent properly so it doesn’t come back on the county,” Perlozzo said. “It’s quite an undertaking and we want to make sure we have the correct expertise in developing the project.”
Applications will be accepted July 8-July 22. Grants of $5,000 will be available to businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Grants of $10,000 will be available for businesses with 26-50 employees while $7,500 grants will be available for agricultural producers. Grants must be used for expenditures that occur between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020 directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding can be used for payroll, operating expenses, rent, telework costs, personal protective equipment costs, inventory acquisition or facility readiness.
“We recognize that $2.2 million probably won’t be enough as it relates to the number of applicants we get,” Perlozzo said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino thanked Perlozzo’s staff for their efforts in developing the program but expressed concern about the role the commissioners would play in the process.
“I am a little concerned about it coming to the commissioners for approval,” he said. “That bothers me considerably because I don’t want it to become political.”
Perlozzo agreed that could be a slippery slope.
“I don’t think you want to be placed in a compromising position,” he said, adding that the review committee would evaluate each application and make a recommendation to the commissioners, who would simply approve it.
Roscoe Leslie, the county attorney, stressed the importance of clear evaluation criteria in the review process.
“Like any grant process there’s going to be winners, there’s going to be losers,” Leslie said. “I think the most important thing is you have solid objective evaluation criteria. You have those criteria and the committee applies the criteria and the chips fall where they are.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the grant program.