Cortland County small businesses can apply for three Business Development Corporation (BDC) programs meant to help businesses establish a presence in downtown commercial corridors across the county, make facade improvements, and expand their operations.
Applications can be sent via email to [email protected] through Feb. 28, and interested parties may call 607-756-5005 for further assistance. Eric Mulvihill, economic development specialist for the BDC, said the organization is seeking to have applications submitted before 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 28, but anticipates flexibility on the deadline.
“If we get an application that came in over the weekend, we will still add it to the pool,” Mulvihill said. “We do not want to discourage anyone. We understand technology can be a problem for some folks. Reach out to us. We want to work with small businesses to make sure we can distribute these dollars in a way that benefits them and our community.”
Below are brief descriptions of how the programs can assist small business owners in the county, as explained by the BDC application process:
Facade Repair and Improvement Program
The Facade Repair and Improvement Program looks to encourage investment by commercial property owners by partially reimbursing up to $10,000 in funds that would go toward signage (50 percent match), and facade and street frontage improvements (75 percent match). Special consideration will be given to historically significant properties in downtown business districts.
Applicants for participation in the grant Program will not be approved unless the property owner is current on all county, town, village and school real property taxes as well as any outstanding municipal utility obligations, according to the application.
The application also lists the following as eligible items for grant consideration:
- Repair or replacement of existing sign
- Installation of new awning and repairs or replacement of existing awning
- Exterior painting
- New exterior lighting, as well as repair or replacement of existing exterior lighting
- Cleaning and repointing of brick on facade
- Repair or replacement of facade windows
- Repair, replacement, or installation of patio areas, fencing, or landscape.
- Facade renovations shall include the full building façade (phased façade renovations will not be considered).
For improvements related to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the BDC will match 90 percent of the costs, up to $10,000.
To apply, interested parties must submit two cost estimates for all work to be completed, the materials to be used for the project, and colored renderings of proposed improvements. Projects must be completed within six months after the BDC has approved the enhancements to the property.
Small Business Expansion Assistance Grant Program
The Small Business Expansion Assistance Grant Program will provide financial assistance to entrepreneurs and existing small businesses that have been putting off capital improvements and expansion due to COVID-19. The BDC will cover 75 percent of the project’s costs up to $10,000. The business owner should be able to shore up the remaining 25 percent, as well as any exceeding costs. These businesses must employ 10 or less people, and should submit plans aimed at growing their revenue and customer base.
Funds can be used to purchase capital equipment and fixtures including HVAC systems, manufacturing, processing and display equipment, computer hardware, office furniture, display fixtures, or other equipment/fixtures that directly support the business activities of the applicant. Applicants may also use funds for the purchase of inventory and software that is specific to the business’ activity. The program could also cover marketing programs for businesses seeking to expand their online outreach.
The BDC can seek repayment if the business closes down or relocates outside the county within three years of the project completion’s date.
Downtown Business Grant Program
The Downtown Business Grant Program would support new businesses locating in the County’s downtown districts with grants of up to $5,000.
Retail operations that are considering a downtown location or have secured a downtown storefront are encouraged to apply.
Franchises, professional service businesses, and existing businesses would not qualify. The goal of this program is to enhance downtown districts as desirable locations while helping to build various business sectors that are critical to the community’s economic health.
The program reimburses start-up costs once the work has been completed and after three months of business operation.
Businesses must remain open for one year from the release of the funds to avoid a requirement to repay the grant to the BDC.
The reimbursable costs include: legal, architectural, financial “soft costs,” rent, lease, purchasing costs, interior and exterior renovations, and signage and awnings. Priority is reserved for businesses that are “best able to fill needs and contribute to the vibrancy and vitality of downtown districts,” as stated in the program’s application.
To apply, business owners must complete the application, as well as provide a description that provides an understanding of the project and describes its potential impact on the business district. Applicants must also provide a business plan, and a description of how the granted funds will be allocated throughout the project.
Requests for all three programs must include two quotes from different contractors or service providers for the work that is being proposed, according to the programs’ applications.
“Many small businesses have delayed capital investments during the pandemic due to the volatile economy and lingering effects of the pandemic,” BDC executive director Garry VanGorder said in a press release. “These funds are intended to prompt those investments and help our small businesses become more resilient and embrace the challenges that they face.”
The programs are funded from a $300,000 pool of funds allocated by the county’s American Rescue Plan Act share of funds.
“We’ve earmarked $100,000 for each program,” Mulvihill said. “However, if we notice that one or two programs are outperforming the other ones, we will shift those resources over to meet those grant applications as they come in. We want to make sure we get all those dollars invested one way or the other.”
Mulvihill said some of the repayment clauses found on the programs’ applications stem from the BDC seeking to help businesses lay the foundation for a prosperous future.
“We did build in some clawback clauses into those programs. We understand there are challenges. It is part of our scoring matrix to say ‘okay, is this really viable?,’” he said. “We are looking for projects that will help that business weather the current conditions and also allow them to be more successful moving ahead.”
Mulvihill added the BDC hopes to not use the payback clauses.
“We want to give these funds to businesses that are already well-positioned and on their way,” he said. “This is going to give them a boost to overcome the current challenges, but also prepare for the future. Whether that is a pandemic or a downturn in the economy.”
The BDC expects to make award notifications by mid-March.