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Local small business COVID-19 relief fund grows

Addition of CARES Act funds pushes fund to $800K

More relief funding is available than initially planned for small businesses in Freeborn County hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the county receiving $3.76 million in relief funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to use $500,000 of those funds for the local program set up to help small businesses. 

The program, which has been a partnership between the city of Albert Lea, Freeborn County and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, was initially set up as a revolving loan program, with the loan being fully forgivable if the business that received the funding remained in business after five years. Each entity had previously put in $150,000 each. Farmers State Bank and Home Federal Bank also donated funds to expand the program.

Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen said the program will now be a grant program, targeting small businesses that were not eligible for state or federal funding through other programs. Guidelines previously given required businesses to have 25 or less full-time employees and to show a loss of 50% of their sales or revenue to be eligible.

Tom Jensen

Jensen said with the change to a grant program, the application is being reworked and the amount allotted to businesses will increase. 

He said 53 applications had been received for the program, seven of which were outside the city of Albert Lea. 

He encouraged other small businesses to reach out about the program. 

“If we don’t use the money, we give it back,” he said, noting he would much rather spend it on the local economy than send it back to the U.S. Treasury. 

Jensen said there are specific guidelines given on how the CARES Act funding can be used. He said the county is working with auditors at CliftonLarsonAllen to make sure all of the county’s spending meets the criteria. 

He said the county is also looking at updating its information technology and telecommunication abilities for staff, as well as putting funding toward cleaning and personal protective equipment supplies. 

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Phillip Johnson said as of Thursday, the COVID-19 relief grant fund had $800,000 in it. With the new guidelines because of the change to a grant program, the program will be re-released next Tuesday for about 10 more days for additional applications.

Phillip Johnson

Johnson said businesses who have already applied will not need to reapply. 

To find out more about the program, call the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency at 373-3930.