East Grand Forks’ economic development authority is set to next week consider a fresh round of COVID-19 business subsidies.
At a special meeting on Dec. 21, city leaders OK’d a $260,000 payment to the development authority to create a forgivable loan program for nonessential businesses that have been partly or completely closed by Gov. Tim Walz’s recent executive orders. The mandate, which was extended Dec. 16, prohibits bars and restaurants from serving customers in-person until the peacetime emergency he enacted last spring expires. Members of the development authority’s board are set to meet Tuesday, Jan. 5, to consider the contours of that program.
Minnesota law prohibits the city or development authority from paying businesses directly, but the “forgivable” part of the loans means businesses wouldn’t have to repay the development authority if they tick certain boxes. Proposed criteria include remaining in business through 2021, complying with the governor’s executive orders, and retaining certain numbers of employees — at least 25% of the people who worked for an applicant in 2019 or 2020 or all of the workers a business had on Jan. 1, whichever is higher.
City and development authority staff put together a list of 17 potential applicants, some of which received money in prior rounds of public aid from the city. Those businesses include the local VFW post and Eagles aerie, River Cinema, and several bars and restaurants, including the Boardwalk Bar and Grill, whose owners flouted Walz’s closure orders earlier this month, and The Spud Jr., whose owner is planning a sit-in protest for early January.
Several East Grand Forks civic and business leaders have chafed under the governor’s orders, which the governor enacted as COVID-19 cases exploded statewide. The city organized a meeting in early December to rail against the closure orders, and the Boardwalk’s owners reopened despite them.
Related: ‘Fingers crossed’: East Grand Forks businesses prepare for monthlong COVID closure’
Beyond the city’s program, Minnesota lawmakers put together a $242 million economic aid package for businesses and laborers that apportions $114.8 million for counties to spend on businesses as they see fit. East Grand Forks Economic Development Director Paul Gorte told East Grand Forks Council members last week that he expects Polk County would receive about $600,000 and the city would receive about $225,000 of that.