COVID-19 relief from Routt County lends hope to local businesses on the brink |

COVID-19 relief from Routt County lends hope to local businesses on the brink

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County awarded $773,000 in grants to local businesses to help them weather the pandemic and bridge the gap to new federal aid currently working its way through Congress.

The county received over 200 applications from businesses looking to get a piece of the aid. Ultimately, they awarded grants to 131 businesses, almost half of them to restaurants.

The grant recipients were chosen through the Steamboat Springs Chamber, with a grant committee evaluating the 210 applications that requested nearly $1.3 million in relief. While the majority of businesses that applied received a grant, many did not, and the process highlighted how much need there is in the local business community.

“The good always comes with the bad. Seeing how much need there is out there is not surprising, but it is really challenging to make these tough decisions,” said Kara Stoller, CEO of the Steamboat Chamber.

Members of the committee said that reviewing applications made it clear how much need there is among the business community.

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“Reading the applications and seeing the financials just confirmed what probably PJ (Wharton) and I have been seeing all summer long — is that we have a lot of small businesses that are suffering and if we don’t get money in their hands quickly, we may see some of our businesses close,” said Adonna Allen, president of Alpine Banks of Colorado and a member of the grant committee.

PJ Wharton, president and CEO of Yampa Valley Bank and member of the committee, agreed, saying that even with the grants, the next few months could still be tough for businesses.

“I really do believe the next three months, unless we are able to reverse from red to orange, is going to be very dark,” said Wharton.

On Friday, members of the committee received the applications, working through the weekend to score them, using a system taking into account things such as jobs retained. The system also looked at factors such as the number of full-time employees, whether the business is up to date on all licenses, how long it has been in the community and whether it has been following COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

What the business wanted to do with the grant was also considered. The committee then met to review and make funding recommendations to commissioners.

“It was a bit painful to go through this process. You do what you have to do, but there is more need that needs to be fulfilled,” said Randy Rudasics, manager of the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs and member of the grant committee.

To narrow down the applicants, the committee first decided which businesses were eligible. If a business was not, the committee tried to communicate with the applicant to verify their eligibility before dismissing their application.

They then organized businesses into different industry groups to ensure that money was spread among various types of businesses. They placed a recommended funding level on each sector, based on the score the application was assigned. The committee discussed businesses based on what was included in the application and ranked them.

“The result of this was that a business that scored higher got recommended grant amounts that were closer to what they wanted,” Rudasics said, adding that applications receiving lower scores got less of what they asked for, if anything at all.

After going through that piece, the committee continued to refine their recommendations down to the $773,000 that was available.

“Our first pass, we were way above the allocated amount,” Rudasics said. “Basically, you start chopping off blocks of money, and it forced us to take money away from folks that really need it, in our opinion.”

Rudasics said they wished they could have funded more businesses, but they had to create a balance with the scoring system. He said some smaller businesses and sole proprietorships were at a disadvantage when it came to the scoring metrics because they have fewer employees.

“They still have substantial need. Many of them support our tourism based industry. They’re highly affected by the closures we have right now and just aren’t meeting their financial needs,” Rudasics said, highlighting how much more relief is needed for businesses. “It is clear that many folks are struggling.”

There were 60 grants awarded to restaurants totaling $421,000, about 55% of the total amount of money local businesses received. Grants ranged from $14,000 to $1,500 depending on the business.

Retail businesses such as F.M. Light and Sons, Solar Flare Glasswork and Design and Steamboat Chocolate, among others, received 10 grants totaling $53,000. Professional and business service businesses got eight grants totaling $44,500, and local gyms and fitness centers received eight grants totaling $34,000.

The county is looking to get the money to businesses as quickly as they can, and Interim County Manager Mark Collins said they are looking at the second week of January currently, but it could be sooner.

“Without a specific date,” Collins said, “I would just say we’re going to do it as quickly as we can.”

Grants were also available for nonprofits, but the recipients of these grants have not been decided yet. A grant committee will meet next week to evaluate applications and make recommendations to commissioners.

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