A grant funded by Washington’s Lottery to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19-related economic shutdown will distribute $321,738 to local companies, according to information from the ports of Columbia and Walla Walla.
“Getting to call (businesses Monday) was really fun, I have to say,” Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson said.
The ports acted as the liaisons for the Working Washington Small Business Emergency grants, which were announced in April.
Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Pat Reay said in April the funds were not a lot but better than nothing for local businesses to stay afloat after being forced to slow down or shut down entirely.
In a letter to Reay, the Washington Department of Commerce said the money distributed by the Port of Walla Walla would help prevent the loss of 112 jobs. A similar letter to Dickinson claimed 90 jobs would be saved by the Port of Columbia’s distribution.
Port of Walla Walla commissioners unanimously agreed at their regular meeting May 28 to have the Port pay out to businesses and then have the funds reimbursed from the Department of Commerce, which funneled money from the Lottery to fund the program.
The action allowed Reay to give the specific dollar amounts to businesses rather than waiting for the Lottery funding or even commissioner approval, which he said was time spent that businesses can’t afford right now.
“These businesses are struggling, they need these funds,” Reay said. “That’s why they applied” for the grants.
According to the Department or Commerce, the money can be used to pay for rent, utility bills, supplies, inventory and other operating expenses.
In Walla Walla County, 300 businesses applied within the allotted time frame. Port staff narrowed the list down to 35 applicants they deemed to be eligible and also fit for receiving the funds, based on the state’s criteria. The state then approved 18 of the applicants for a total of $167,200 in grants.
In Columbia County, 25 businesses received $154,538 in grants. There, 31 businesses applied for the grants.
Dickinson said a portion of the money was set aside for administrative costs for the ports that were handling the grant process, but the Port of Columbia opted to give that money to businesses, too.
Dickinson said three of the businesses that failed the application process had non-compliance issues that she was going to help the owners sort out.
She also said one daycare was in line to get funds but actually opted to close, and Dickinson was going to check with the state to see if those monies could be sent elsewhere. The name of the daycare was not disclosed.
Dickinson said she was receiving good reports of how the money would be used to support employees.
Bluewood Manager Kim Clark said the $10,000 the ski resort received would be 100% spent within the Dayton community.
Most of the businesses for Walla Walla County received the maximum $10,000 allotment, whereas most of the Columbia County recipients did not.
Dickinson and Reay both mentioned how important the grants were to their communities, even if not everyone could get some.
Dickinson is also working on putting together a local grant, mostly funded by private donations. She said it was only fair for some businesses that didn’t meet the criteria for these grants, such as having 10 employees and being in operation for at least a year.
The grant began as $5 million total for the state, but Gov. Jay Inslee had it doubled at the end of April.