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Officials outline support plan

Commissioners meet to discuss ways to assist local small businesses

Sentinel photo by BRIAN COX
Jim Zubler, executive director of Downtown Lewistown Inc., addresses the Mifflin County Commissioners regarding the Small Business Grant Program during a meeting Monday at the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown.

LEWISTOWN — At a brief special meeting Monday, the Mifflin County Commissioners took actions aimed at helping local small businesses recover economically from the COVID-19 shutdown.

First, the commissioners, by a unanimous vote, authorized an application for COVID-19 County Relief Block Grant funds through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

This funding originated with the federal CARES Act Congress passed in March to assist with the recovery from the pandemic. A portion of money given to Pennsylvania was made available in May by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration in the form of block grant funds for counties.

Mifflin County will now apply to the state for these funds.

“In our particular application with our block grant receiving to Mifflin County, there are several areas in which we can receive monies for,” said Mifflin County Planning Director Mark Colussy in comments to the commissioners. “Be it to assist businesses, we were also looking to assist municipalities specifically with … personal protective equipment. We were also looking at providing benefits to non-profit agencies as well as deploying broadband to underserved and unserved areas of Mifflin County. … That provides a lot of quality areas in which we can supply to the benefit of Mifflin County residents.”

The commissioners also urged local businesses to try to take advantage of a separate, limited time $225 million Small Business Grant Program being offered by the state through Community Development Financial Institutions. The funding for this program also originated with the federal CARES Act.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, businesses that receive funding will be able to use the grants to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and transition to reopening and for technical assistance, including training and guidance for business owners as they stabilize and relaunch their businesses.

The governor’s office said the grants will be available through three programs: $100 million for the “Main Street Business Revitalization Program,” which is for any qualifying business that experienced loss as a result of the March shutdown order; $100 million for the “Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program” for qualifying businesses primarily owned (at least 51%) and operated by historically socially and economically disadvantaged people such as women and ethnic minorities; and $25 million for the “Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program,” which can grant forbearance and payment relief for those with existing CDFI loans.

“Small business applications are available to anyone in the county, specifically small businesses with less than 25 full-time employees,” said Jim Zubler, executive director of Downtown Lewistown Inc. in comments to the commissioners. To be eligible, businesses cannot exceed $1 million in gross annual revenue, Zubler said.

Zubler said anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 could be awarded to eligible businesses if applications are approved. According to the state, the amount of the grant would depend upon the gross operating revenue of the business.

“In the county, we have two points of contact — the (Juniata River Valley) Chamber of Commerce and the Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation,” Zubler said. “We’re still working out some fine details on this program.

“We urge small businesses to apply for this. Essentially, the application opening is (Tuesday) and it lasts for 10 days. This is an important program to support our small businesses that have experienced some loss.”

The commissioners echoed Zubler’s sentiments and urged qualified local businesses to participate.

“Just to clarify, this is a statewide program and we encourage Mifflin County small businesses to inquire and apply to the program if they’ve had losses,” Commissioner Rob Postal said.

To count toward eligibility, the losses must have been incurred between March 1 and May 31 of this year when compared to the same time period in 2019.

Postal explained the applications would go to other agencies but small business owners had options for how to pursue the money while stressing the need for urgent action.

“Those businesses could contact those agencies directly or they could use the assistance of the chamber or MCIDC, but it’s important to note that both open up (Tuesday) for 10 business days,” Postal said. “It’s a very, very quick turnaround.”

Applications for the program are filed online at pabusinessgrants.com.

“This is a statewide program of $225 million, so, again, we want to stress to Mifflin County people, please, if you have questions, contact the chamber, contact MCIDC, Nick (Felice, CEO of MCIDC) or Jim,” Commissioner Kevin Kodish said. “Make contacts because this is a 10-day window. It’s gonna go fast, so we want our businesses to get a share of that $225 million.”

In other business, the commissioners renewed a service agreement with Nittany Media, originally enacted in 2002, regarding a fiber network for the county. Kodish pointed out the network connects the county and Lewistown Borough governments to the high school and the local public access channel. Kodish said the county has equipment yet to be installed that would allow officials to preempt programming in order to disseminate information to area residents during an emergency via the public access channel.

The commissioners unanimously approved the resolution to extend the agreement for two years.

The commissioners still plan to hold their regular meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday on the second floor of the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown.

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