WELLINGTON COUNTY – As another lockdown looms, Wellington County economic development officials want business owners to know there is support available.
Crystal Ellis, County of Wellington director of economic development, said the county doesn’t have funding to give to businesses but their biggest role in the next lockdown is to help direct to an applicable grant or program.
She said there are some recent provincial funding announcements that we will learn more about in January but suggested the second round of funding through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) is likely the strongest program available to Wellington County businesses as of right now.
The RRRF is administered through Waterloo-Wellington Community Futures (WWCF) for businesses in Puslinch, Erin, Centre Wellington, Mapleton and Guelph/Eramosa.
For businesses in Minto and Wellington North, the Saugeen Economic Development Corp. handles these applications.
Rick Whittaker, general manager of WWCF, said the purpose of the RRRF is to help those who may not get enough or don’t qualify for government-related COVID-relief funding like the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).
“With CEBA, you need to have a business account and a lot of sole proprietors didn’t have a business account at the bank,” Whittaker said, explaining that this includes a lot of chiropractors, massage therapists or artisans.
Although preference is given to those who didn’t get CEBA, Whittaker said those who did or other grants are welcome to apply.
Small businesses in Wellington County can apply for a maximum of $40,000, that is low or no interest depending on how it is paid back.
Whittaker explained a quarter of the loan can be forgiven if a recipient has paid 75 per cent of the amount by Dec. 31, 2022. There is also no interest or principal payments until that date either
Whittaker said there is also a $2,000 grant that businesses can apply for to use beyond just emergency relief.
“Businesses can get up to $2,000 to have an expert come and help them either with their online presence or with some financial advising or human resources,” Whittaker said.
The WWCF administered the county’s $1 million Keep Well Emergency Fund loans and the first round of the RRRF, which was also $1 million, in early spring.
He said that money went quickly but this phase of funding isn’t moving as fast, possibly because the summer brought some relief for business.
“I would have thought by Christmas we would have been out of money,” Whittaker said, but only a third is gone at this point.
With a lockdown coming on Dec. 26, Whittaker expects an uptick in requests from businesses for help.
He encourages eligible businesses to reach out and apply for the emergency loans on their website.
Ellis said she isn’t aware of a plan for another program similar to Keep Well at this time but the county has conducted a survey of over 400 businesses to gather data.
“We’re seeing what’s working, what’s not working … did they have to shut down or have they reopened?” Ellis explained. “That’s really the first step into figuring out what’s the biggest need for our rural communities and small urban centres because that’s going to be very different from a large city.”
Recommendations from the business survey, which could include an emergency loan program, will go forward to the economic development committee and county council at a later time.
The county’s other role is to continue to encourage shopping local, for example by keeping their business directory up-to-date.
“We can draw people that way so that they know about what exists in the community and how they can contact people is a really big aspect,” Ellis said.
“Supporting businesses is essential to keeping our community vibrant and relevant. Without those businesses, we don’t have that healthy community that we require to keep our economy going.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com