Relief programs spark optimism as calendar turns
The start of the new year brings with it optimism for local businesses in the Truckee-Tahoe area.
With the potential for the regional stay-at-home order to be lifted, shipments of COVID-19 vaccines arriving, and resources being made available at the state and county level, local businesses are hoping to bounce back in 2021.
“This community has rallied in ways that many communities haven’t,” said Kristin York, vice president of business innovation for the Sierra Small Business Development Center at Sierra Business Council.
“It’s like a fourth down with a yard to go, and the team is rallying. All of the chambers, all of the businesses associations — everyone is trying to help each other out.”
From the recently launched California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant to county and local initiatives, there are several resources available to businesses impacted by a stay-at-home-order that was issued during the holiday season — a time when, according to York, businesses can see upward of a 400% increase in profits.
“The fact is the economy in Tahoe really relies on the two weeks around Christmas,” said York. “It is absolutely critical. It can be a make or break.”
A statewide grant was launched Wednesday to help businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. The California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant is now open, and will distribute a total of $500 million through two rounds of funding.
Applications for round one opened Wednesday and close on Jan. 8, and will distribute $237 million to businesses in need.
“This grant program isn’t the end, it’s the beginning,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Wednesday news release. “It’s a bridge to help the millions of Californians, whose dreams and livelihoods are now on the line, as we work with the state Legislature to create additional support.
Grant amounts will range from $5,000 to $25,000 based on annual revenue. The program will prioritize distribution based on sectors most impacted by the pandemic, along with businesses that are run by women, minorities, veterans, and located in low to moderate income and rural communities. Notifications of approval will be sent out beginning Jan. 13.
Locally, York said the Sierra Business Council has been bombarded by calls from businesses trying to sift through the application process.
“We have been nonstop,” said Kristin York. “I feel for these people. They are on the edge. It’s been difficult.”
The state’s website, http://www.californiasbdc.org, crashed on Wednesday morning due to “overwhelming website traffic,” said officials.
“The good news it’s not first-come, first-served,” added York. “It’s a weighted, lottery system, so everyone has sort of an equal chance.”
The Nevada County Relief Fund is also available to small businesses. Round four of funding is targeted to support the most impacted businesses as determined by the regional stay-at-home order, and will award $2,500 or $5,000, depending on business size. Applications will close at 6 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, visit http://www.nevcorelief.org.
With relief programs in place, and others slated to come in the next few weeks, York said there’s a sense of optimism among businesses, many of which have been buoyed by the support of the community.
“People have really appreciated local businesses. I’ve seen a lot of people in town rise to the occasion,” said York. “Look at the Tahoe Food Hub. They had to shut their store, yet so many people are ordering online … and they’re donating to others. So, I think there’s a greater sense of connection and purpose. People want to patronize businesses that they trust and those tend to be local businesses.”
BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT
Heading into 2021, North Tahoe businesses will have more control on locally generated funds.
At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to start the formal process to create a tourism business improvement district.
The district is projected to potentially generate up $7 million annually in locally controlled funds to support infrastructure projects, workforce housing, and traffic mitigation initiatives.
“This is an amazing first step for our business community in North Tahoe. Having worked on transportation and workforce housing issues for decades, I am pleased to see the direction this effort is taking,” said District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson in a news release. “While TOT has served to bring many amazing projects to the community, I am excited about the business equity the (business district) will bring. Many businesses that currently benefit from tourism do not have an avenue to contribute and participate in the conversation about the best use of local investment funds. I know that these are challenging times, but I am confident we will look back at this landmark as (a) first step toward a more economically viable and collaborative North Tahoe.”
The tourism business improvement district would fund $3.15 million for marketing and visitor services — a function Placer County currently contracts with and allocates transient occupancy tax revenue to the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association to provide.
“It will be more control by the community versus the county,” said Jeffrey Hentz, CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “It’s a huge step in improving the quality of life for the local community, because now we’ll have funds to address some issues that in the past, the funds weren’t there.”
Hentz said areas likely to be addressed are issues like parking, transportation, and workforce housing.
While a tourism business improvement district will provide more autonomy for the North Tahoe area, Hentz said there is concern among local businesses due to the reliance of special events and large group meetings.
“Without those coming back, we feel that the first six months of the year will be tough for us,” said Hentz, who added that there was enough visitor traffic before the stay-at-home order to support local businesses.
“Just get us fully open and we can do the rest … but we’re still in this period of uncertainty, which is the biggest cloud hanging over our tourism sector — what’s the first three to four months going to look like?”
As of Thursday morning, the Truckee-Tahoe area is eligible to come out of the regional stay-at-home order today, and will be assessed on a weekly basis if restrictions remain.
Hentz said the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association is currently working with Placer County to set up a rent relief program for businesses most impacted by the pandemic.
“We’re formulating and hope to release sometime early next week a grant program that will be funds coming from Placer Shares,” said Hentz. “We’re still working on that so we can come up with the criteria and get that out next week.”
Hentz said the program is aimed to help businesses through January with the hope that restrictions will soon be relaxed in the region, allowing for sectors like hair salons and gyms to reopen.
For additional COVID resource information in the North Tahoe area, visit at NLTRA.org.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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