ELY – A new community relief financial program designed to help businesses here get back on their feet following a shutdown of commerce due to the coronavirus pandemic has tentatively been …
ELY – A new community relief financial program designed to help businesses here get back on their feet following a shutdown of commerce due to the coronavirus pandemic has tentatively been approved. The announcement was made Tuesday by the Ely Economic Development Authority.
As much as $125,000 in grant money will be soon be coming to EEDA from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s Taconite Area Community Relief Grant Program.
Businesses that are having issues with job recruitment and job retention, and others who are looking to expand their business and may be having trouble raising capital, are eligible to apply for a one-time forgivable loan of up to $25,000.
The city’s economic development leaders applied for as much as $400,000, but applications far exceeded the $2 million IRRB had available.
“The reward will be smaller but the effectiveness will be what we are trying to portray,” said Ely’s economic advisor John Fedo.
With the EEDA’s 25-percent match, Ely City Clerk Harold Langowski said the financial program will include options for forgivable loans for several local businesses.
“We have had two businesses call and ask about this program already,” he said. “We will be able to offer a $25,000 loan at one-percent interest, and if they can retain new employees for at least two years, this could be forgivable and they won’t have to pay it back.”
The money to local businesses should be available by the end of August, he added.
“While this is a loan program, if the businesses meet all the requirements, this would be a grant,” he said.
Eligible businesses are required to hire at least two employees at a wage of at least $15 per hour and retain them for at least two years.
Mayor Chuck Novak suggested a greater investment from the EEDA, perhaps as much as $20,000 additional dollars to offer more help for local businesses through the program.
Langowski added, “Hopefully we will have more businesses ready to go by our next meeting.”
High-speed fiber and the VA Clinic
In other business, EEDA officials were updated on the city’s high-speed fiber installation program in the downtown corridor, designed to encourage more businesses to relocate here.
Fedo noted that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown this year, “pulled back the curtain, so to speak, and revealed that we don’t have very good infrastructure across the country for high-speed internet and fiber at the level necessary for businesses to operate.”
Novak lamented that local officials have been talking about improved internet service availability for at least two decades.
“We hear a lot of talk at the federal and state level,” he said. “If legislation does make it through, we don’t qualify because we are labeled as an urban community. There is always another roadblock.”
Langowski noted that progress is being made on the city’s own high-fiber project that will be available to nearly 260 properties, both businesses and residential.
“We are currently upgrading our poles in town and bids are out for the installation of the fiber lines,” he said.
“We are at a point where we want to start marketing, but the materials we need for installation are not in stock anywhere right now. We have a project ready to go. We have the finances but we can’t source the materials,” he said. “A lot of this has to do with COVID-19. Many companies are not manufacturing or shipping right now. I would love to tell you this would be done this fall, but I can’t promise that.”
EEDA President Heidi Omerza revealed, unofficially, that the city has been awarded a new lease from the Veterans Administration and work will soon begin on a medical clinic expansion project at the Miner’s Drive facility.
A formal meeting will be held in early August, according to Langowski, to review the expansion plan and finalize the design.
“At that point, we have until the end of next summer to be 100-percent completed,” he said. “The clinic will remain at its current location until the day they can occupy the new portion.”
With the 3.500 square-foot expansion, the clinic will double in size and new medical services will be available for the area’s many veterans.
“This will be a state-of-the-art facility,” Langowski said. “We will have a 10-year lease and the possibility of 10 more years to be added to the agreement.”