Business & Economy

$64 million in COVID-19 grants available for Minnesota small businesses

A man behind a window.
Northern Waters Smokehaus employee Tyler Bonam organizes delivery orders in March 2020 in Duluth, Minn., as their regular dining area was converted to a space to organize delivery and carryout orders.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2020

A 10-day window opens Monday for applications for a new state program that offers grants to Minnesotan-owned small businesses that suffered economic hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Minnesota Main Street COVID relief grants” range from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the business. Companies with up to 200 employees are eligible to apply for the program, administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

A business can quality in two ways: They’re eligible if they experienced at least a 10 percent loss in revenue from 2019 to 2020. Businesses can also apply if they were restricted from operating in some capacity by an executive order during the pandemic — for example, a bar or restaurant that had to close or limit capacity.

Winners will be selected by a computer-generated randomized lottery. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove acknowledged there are certain businesses that suffered more than others during the pandemic.

“But [developing] some sort of a pain meter or … an assessment of the degree to which you were damaged, for this program, felt both difficult and onerous enough such that a lottery is actually the most fair amongst all the options to get the money out,” he said.

Half of the total money will be allocated to businesses owned by women, military veterans, people of color, and companies with six or fewer employees. Applicants that have not received assistance through previous relief programs will also be prioritized for consideration.

Funding will be split half and half between the Twin Cities metro area and greater Minnesota.

Businesses have through Sept. 29 to apply. Unlike loans, the grants do not need to be repaid.

This is the second round of COVID-19 relief grants distributed by the state. DEED’s Brandon Toner said about 27,000 businesses applied for the first round of grants distributed last fall. About 8,500 were approved, but after being screened for eligibility, he said about 6,000 were ultimately awarded grants.

Grove said for some small businesses, those grants were “transformational,” adding that he hopes this round of grants will have a similar impact.

“I hear business owners tell me that these funds, when they came around last time, were really what kept them afloat over a really difficult year, and kept their businesses open, and allowed them to continue to pay people and just to stay in operation,” he said, “so that when they got through the most difficult hours of the pandemic, they could come back stronger.”

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