Business Development Corporation Proposes Reinvigoration Programs for County Businesses with American Rescue Plan Funding

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Cortland County Business Development Corporation (BDC) officials proposed three new initiatives Monday to boost local business using federal funding.

The three new plans presented by the BDC at Monday’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting would use funds from Cortland County’s American Rescue Plan allocation of $9.2 million to help with facade improvements, small business expansion, and acquisition of supplies and inventory.

The committee will vote on these proposals around the end of October, according to an estimation from Cortland County Legislature Chair Paul Heider (R-LD 16).

The first initiative presented by the BDC is the Cortland County Facade Improvement Program, which calls for businesses to submit proposals to the BDC for renovations to storefronts across the county. The BDC will cover 75% of the funding for the renovations with a cap of $10,000. The total allocation requested by the BDC is $250,000.

“Our thought here is to incentivize those businesses to invest in themselves thinking that storefronts are important so that businesses can run an attractive and productive business,” said BDC executive director Gary VanGorder. “Maintaining the integrity of the storefront is important to the shopping community.”

VanGorder said many businesses may have embarked on renovation projects prior to the pandemic, and this program is meant to encourage them from resuming said projects.

“These improvements make the property value higher for the property owner, makes it better to neighboring businesses, and provides incentive for folks to visit storefronts that may have been neglected due to (the pandemic),” VanGorder added.

Nonprofit organizations with a physical space are encouraged to apply as well.

The second program proposed by VanGorder is the Small Business Expansion Assistance Program, which targets businesses with 10 employees or less.

“The intent here is to help businesses recover from a tough time when revenues were scarce and lockdowns were in place,” VanGorder said. 

Applicant businesses will receive aid from the BDC to purchase furniture, required machinery, software, or in certain cases — inventory. The program will cover 75% of the plan submitted by the applicant with a $10,000 cap. For this program, VanGorder said the BDC is requesting a $200,000 allocation from the county’s American Rescue Plan Money.

“The proposal can include anything that a business may want to use to help itself recover,” VanGorder said. “We are prohibiting refinancing and interim financing. We want to see real spending on the business itself.”

The BDC will seek repayment for the grant if the applicant’s business closes or relocates within the three years after approval. 

County Legislature Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD 2) said he would like to see the program be open to applications from nonprofit organizations.

“I would like to see consideration, or at least discussion, for nonprofits (to take advantage of this program). They provide a lot of services in our community,” Harbin said. “(Sometimes) if (nonprofits) had a small grant they could provide extra services, or bring in an extra staff member, and they do have an impact on our community.” 

VanGorder noted the BDC meant for this program to be more focused toward the retail sector, which he added suffered declining revenues when state-wide shelter-in-place measures were instituted last year. 

VanGorder said the corporation may revisit nonprofits as a potential option and make revisions to their proposals accordingly.

The third program presented by VanGorder is the Downtown Business Assistance Program, which would offer grants of up to $5,000 to applicants in the retail sector of downtown districts across the county. The BDC is requesting an allocation of $100,000 from federal funds for this project.

“Priority will be given to businesses that exist in underutilized or vacant commercial spaces,” VanGorder said. “For example: businesses that are looking to open small retail in one of those types of spaces would get priority. It is an incentive for those businesses that in the first few months face challenges with working capital. We want to create an easier path for success.”

Eric Mulvhill, the BDC’s community relations specialist, said the BDC has already been contacted by two businesses requesting funding assistance to add inventory.

County Legislature Majority Leader George Wagner asked if the Downtown Business Assistance Program would be put on hold in the city of Cortland while the two-way street project for Main Street is under construction.

VanGorder said the city and the BDC will have to look at applicants on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not to award the money during construction season.

Mulvhill said businesses could potentially use some of the federal money for marketing, reaching out to customers and letting them know their business will be open even during the overhaul to Main Street.“These individuals may want to do individual marketing to reach their customer base and tapping into these revenue streams may be beneficial,” he said.

The Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee will meet again on Friday, Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. to discuss other proposals for federal funding expenditure.