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Officials respond to CARES funding column

Editor’s Note — This joint opinion piece is in response to a column titled, “County gives PE businesses CARES crumbs” in the Wednesday, Aug. 19, edition of The Farmville Herald by Editor Roger Watson.

Businesses in our community, like businesses throughout the world, have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and the local public and nonprofit sectors jumped into action to help bring relief to businesses in need, stimulating our local economy and generating tax revenue in the process. In unprecedented efforts, economic development and business organizations in both sectors worked in collaboration and in congruence with one another. The organizations have been working hard to identify, allocate, and obtain funding and also educate and advocate for small businesses in need.

Farmville Downtown Partnership swiftly moved to action and successfully competed for a $15,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development for local businesses. Fourteen businesses were awarded grants, a total of 12% of downtown businesses. During that time, Prince Edward County, an active member of the South Central Virginia Workforce Investment Board, connected local businesses with grant money to fund necessary COVID cleaning costs and teleworking costs. 

Having not yet received CARES Act funding, but aware of the immediate need, Prince Edward County Industrial Development Authority joined with the Town of Farmville Industrial Development Authority to work in collaboration to give out a total of $20,000 in grant money to small businesses. The eligibility requirements were strategically put in place to make the grants accessible for small businesses who may not have been eligible for other state or federal programs. All of the small businesses that applied for the grants that met all of the eligibility requirements received funding. The two authorities provided $1,111.11 to 18 businesses located in both the town and the county. In order to give further assistance to businesses, Farmville Town Council has waived penalty and interest on certain late taxes for businesses since March in hopes to ease the burden on them during this challenging time.

Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors appointed a committee to make decisions on federal CARES Act funding that was allocated to the county. The committee budgeted $100,000 for small business grants. At their last meeting, the committee voted unanimously to request an additional $200,000 from the county allocation, totaling $300,000 for small businesses in the community. This decision will be made by the Board of Supervisors at their September meeting and is likely to be passed, further helping businesses in need.

During a time when many chambers have taken a pause or have disbanded completely, the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce has been a driving force for connecting businesses in the area during the pandemic. The organization created a COVID resource page on Facebook that reached almost 2,000 people and continued providing reliable and relevant information to the community through their “Coffee & COVID” online discussions/educational sessions, open to the public. The chamber served as the financial operators of a gift-card website that helped with cash flow during the early phases of the pandemic when restaurants and retail stores were closed and facilitated other revenue-generating programs. In collaboration with the Farmville Downtown Partnership, the chamber provided “We’re Open” signage to local businesses free of cost to help lure in customers. 

Prince Edward County and the Town of Farmville, as well as the nonprofit organizations, (Farmville Downtown Partnership and the chamber), consistently referred business owners to the Longwood Small Business Development Center (Longwood SBDC) during the COVID outbreak. Longwood SBDC was not only available to help with their usual services of counseling and training for businesses, but they also helped businesses apply for federal grants for relief, serving 35 businesses in Prince Edward County with COVID-related funding. The organization has seen a 160% increase in requests for consulting year to date in 2020 compared to last year, and has expanded their team of contract consultants to assist with specific challenges of business recovery.

Before the pandemic, the Town of Farmville, Prince Edward County, and the Farmville Downtown Partnership worked in collaboration and successfully competed for a $10,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to focus on small-scale manufacturing in the area. Due to the pandemic, the goals of the grant have been reworked to focus on the pivoting of the small-scale manufacturing community due to the pandemic, what that will look like in the future, and how the economic development community can help to foster the growth of these businesses during and after the pandemic. Also in collaboration, the two local governments, along with the Downtown Partnership and the chamber, all successfully competed for and received grant money from the Virginia Tourism Commission to implement the Wanderlove campaign to encourage tourism and in turn, stimulate the local economy and generate local tax revenue.

Over the past five months, all of these entities have worked tirelessly to provide necessary grant funding and to facilitate other financial aid for businesses during this challenging time. Financial aid has been partnered with other services, support, and advocacy efforts to implement needed programs and policies in the business community. These public and nonprofit entities will continue their important work throughout the pandemic and after to serve our local businesses who play a vital role in our communities serving our citizens, generating revenue, and fostering the growth of our local economy. 

The article was collaboratively written by:

Jen Cox, Farmville Downtown

Partnership president

Scott Davis, Farmville town manager

Sheri McGuire, Longwood Small Business Development Center executive director

Cameron Patterson, Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce board chair

Kate Pickett, Prince Edward County director of economic development