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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely looks to IRRR for economic, business stimulus

New grant program could help increase employment opportunities

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/2/20

ELY – Ely economic development officials are hopeful that a new community relief program will help businesses here get back on their feet following a shutdown of commerce this spring and early …

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Ely looks to IRRR for economic, business stimulus

New grant program could help increase employment opportunities

Posted

ELY – Ely economic development officials are hopeful that a new community relief program will help businesses here get back on their feet following a shutdown of commerce this spring and early summer due to public health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Council members, Tuesday, acting as the Ely Economic Development Authority, authorized city staff to submit the grant proposal next week to the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s Taconite Area Community Relief Grant Program.
EEDA President Heidi Omerza praised the program and asserted that the $400,000 grant application, along with a $100,000 investment from the city’s economic development arm, “is the best thing for our businesses’ owners at this time.” She added, “This will help make sure we can get out of this and get our employment back up over the next year or two.”
Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski indicated that local business leaders help draft the narrative for the grant application, due July 6. “Some businesses are having issues with job recruitment and job retention, and others are considering expanding (their business) and having trouble raising capital. We are looking at any and all potential uses for the funds,” he said.
Langowski said the program is considering two options for forgivable loans. “What we heard, from at least two local bankers, is that people aren’t looking to borrow more money. This is not a time when they want to go out and borrow more money. Maybe we can assist those who may want to expand a little bit. It may be just a micro-grant, but it would be outreach to as many as 20 businesses, which would certainly have an impact,” he said.
Mayor Chuck Novak praised the grant program as one way for the city to help local businesses. “This is one initiative that may not get a lot of headlines,” he said. “We are offering a $25,000 loan at one-percent interest, and if they can add two employees for two years this could be forgivable and they won’t have to pay it back. That’s an incentive that many business owners are really interested in. We need 25 applicants, and our banks say they easily have 25 applicants.”
Novak added that the city’s $100,000 investment in the program is money well spent.
“This is one of those programs that will help us move forward and is one of those programs that other cities will take over and copy Ely and what we’re doing,” Omerza said. “Like so many other things that Ely does, this is out front and innovative.”
“We can’t get the cart ahead of the horse,” warned Langowski. “We still have to apply for the grant, but I think we are hitting all the marks on what the (IRRR) agency is trying to do to help businesses,” he said.
Ely’s economic advisor John Fedo added that the EEDA’s initiative has strong support from the Ely Chamber of Commerce, and area developers. “Hopefully that will add to the texture of what we are doing here,” he said.
Fedo estimated that the grants could be awarded in two or three weeks.
Other business
• In his monthly economic development activity report, Fedo informed the authority that the Laurentian Vision Partnership (LVP) recently reconstituted with a new focus and regional marketing mission on mining economic development. The organization is now called Mining Vision Partnership (MVP).
• Ely’s Historic State Theater recently took delivery of Historic Tax Credits that will be used to help reimburse IRRR’s financing for that project. The non-profit organization opened their movie theater last week.
• Fedo noted that the State Legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill in the regular session or the recent special session put the city’s trailhead project in a holding pattern. Council member Paul Kess expressed his disappointment that the city’s economic development project did not get more support from the State House members, especially Rep. Rob Ecklund. “That is troubling to me,” he said.
Novak also voiced his disappointment in Ecklund. “He is elected to serve us. We have the right to demand he serve us on this issue,” he said. “Call him and put the pressure on him.”

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