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On April 30, when Lt. Governor Crouch announced that 61 communities had received COVID-19 response funds, Blackford County was among them because of the organizing efforts of Community Development Extension. Educator Cheri Brown, new to her 50% CD appointment as of January 2020, convened the meeting with local elected officials, helped to gather the information/specifics needed by the county’s grant writer, and moved the project forward to completion. “I wouldn’t let them leave the room,” laughed Brown, recalling the urgent meeting with local leadership due to the quick turnaround time. “Initially, we thought we had a couple of weeks, so we got it in ‘under the wire,’ since applications closed the Monday after our Friday submission. And to think it all started in April with a Qualtrics survey that received 21 responses from local businesses.”
Eligible applicants for this program could apply for up to $250,000 and included grants or loans to businesses to retain Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) jobs. “Many of the business owners face already-slim margins, which make these grants even more essential for their survival,” said Matt Crouch, Interim Executive Director of OCRA. “OCRA is pleased to be able to continue our support for small businesses which is integral to the recovery of Indiana’s rural economy.”
In the first round of funding, Blackford County received $240,000, which they passed out to 39 local businesses who qualified for the funding. From start-up entrepreneurs to local factories, each received a check ranging from $1,500 to $22,000, depending on the needs they detailed in their applications. “We didn’t want to put a cap on how much they could ask for because we wanted to use this as a ‘needs assessment’ for current and future opportunities,” said Brown. “Delivering the checks was the fun part,” she added, noting that this was also a chance for the new mayor, new economic development director, and herself (as the new CD Extension educator) to make introductions to the local businesses, show support, and discover their desires for training, marketing and other resources.
Brown didn’t stop there—and neither did the local leadership. They persevered into a second round of funding to request a revolving loan fund that will provide small businesses with working capital for reopening, restocking and paying for remote work technology. They were awarded that grant, too, on Aug. 27 for $250,000, and are in the midst of working through the distribution details. Brown, along with the mayor, economic development director and other local elected officials are excited to see this influx of funds into the county. “It is very humbling to provide this type of assistance to local business,” said Warren Brown, Blackford County LEDO. “Many businesses are struggling to make ends meet. We are thrilled that OCRA provided us with the opportunity to help our businesses. We will continue to pursue opportunities as they become available.”