Local businesses can find more coronavirus aid under new joint initiative

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Posted August 7, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Deputy Editor

Another economic lifeline has been tossed to pandemic-weary businesses throughout Marion County.

On Wednesday, the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, working with Marion County, unveiled four programs designed to help firms struggling because of COVID-19.

CEP President and CEO Kevin Sheilley said the organization seeks to seed the Moving Biz Forward initiative with $7.1 million from Marion County’s share of the federal CARES Act. Marion County received a total of $63 million for COVID-19 relief initiatives.

Potential applicants do not have to be CEP members to seek aid.

The county and the CEP are still negotiating the details, but on Tuesday commissioners green-lighted the CEP to publicize the program.

The agency and county officials also are creating this initiative after, according to a Gazette analysis, roughly 3,300 Marion County businesses received at least $233 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of the CARES Act.

“This is for every business in our community,” Sheilley told commissioners on Tuesday. “Our number one goal is to ensure that our community is vibrant and prosperous, and the key to that is to have a vibrant, prosperous business community.”

The application period for each is expected to open on Aug. 18. That’s also when the County Commission is expected to approve the final agreement.

Here’s a look at what’s available:

The Bridge to Recovery Program is accessible to businesses with fewer than 25 employees. It provides funding for rent or mortgages, salaries, utilities, supplies and working capital. To qualify, both the company and its owner must reside in Marion County, and be licensed to do business here. The company also must have been in business for at least a year.

Chains or franchises are not eligible, nor are real estate investment firms, multi-level marketers, adult entertainment outlets or gun dealers. Those that owe back taxes or are in bankruptcy also cannot qualify.

Applicants must also submit a profit-and-loss statement (P&L) and a balance sheet for 2020 and the previous year. They must demonstrate how jobs would be lost without the funding, and provide a plan showing how the money will sustain them to recovery. Recipients must complete a one-hour online financial overview class, and will be required to provide quarterly updates for one year on how funding was used, the status of the company and the current number of employees.

The Moving Forward Program provides forgivable loans to companies with 26 to 100 workers. The funding can be used for rent or mortgages, salaries, utilities, supplies and working capital. Again, the owner and business must both reside in Marion County, and be licensed here. The company must have been in business prior to Aug. 1, 2018.

Moving Forward also excludes chains or franchises, real estate investment companies, multi-level marketing firms, adult entertainment businesses and gun sellers. Also ineligible are those in arrears on taxes or in bankruptcy.

Applicants must submit a P&L statement and balance sheet for 2020 and the past two years, as well as a plan for how the loan will help sustain them. These owners also will be required to show how jobs would be lost without the loan, provide quarterly updates for one year on how funding was used, the status of the company and the current number of employees.

The Testing Capacity Reimbursement Program assists labs, clinics and physicians’ offices with costs associated with expanding COVID-19 testing capacity. The program offers grants, capped at $30,000, to private, for-profit firms located in Marion County. Qualified applicants must occupy the county address shown on their Sunbiz registration and must have started before Feb. 15, 2020. Those with multiple locations can submit a request for each one.

Applicants must show the expenses, as documented by receipts, occurred after July 1, 2020. They may seek reimbursement for testing supplies or equipment, remodeling or expansion costs, or capital Improvements, which can include but are not limited to air handling, safety partitioning, and improvements designed to reduce the spread of the virus that comply with state and CDC guidelines.

The Project Operating Safely Program furnishes grants to private, for-profit companies located in Marion County. The firm must have started before Feb. 15, 2020, and occupy the county address listed on its Sunbiz registration. Applicants must have purchased personal protective equipment (PPE), obtained professional cleaning and disinfection services, and/or made capital improvements because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those purchases must comply with CDC, state and county Health Department guidelines and occurred between March 1 and Aug. 30, 2020.

PPE is defined as masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant products. Eligible capital improvements include but are not limited to signage, air handling, social distancing partitioning, improvements for safe queueing, and changes intended to reduce the spread of infection.

Grants are capped at $3,000 per business for businesses with 100 or fewer employees, and $10,000 per business for those with more than 100 workers. Businesses, however, can submit just one application per registered business address.

For more information, those interested can visit MovingBizForward.com or contact the CEP at (352) 629-8051.

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