370 companies applied, with 190 to get help
Approximately 370 applications came into the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) of Sarasota County on Monday, April 27, when the organization opened the Small Business Resiliency Loan Program the County Commission approved on April 22.
Kate Atkin, director of investor engagement with the EDC, provided that total to The Sarasota News Leader this week.
Of those, she wrote in a May 6 email, 190 were approved and forwarded to county staff for processing. “The funds are now exhausted,” she pointed out.
The EDC opened the application period at 9 a.m. on April 27, she noted.
At the suggestion of Commissioner Christian Ziegler, the loan program money — approximately $4.3 million — came from the county’s Economic Incentive Fund. That was established to try to bring “game-changer” businesses to Sarasota County, Commissioner Charles Hines noted during his board’s discussions during regular meetings on April 8 and April 22.
Hines was the sole commissioner to vote against using the money to try to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
A chart Rob Lewis, the county’s director of governmental relations, sent to the county commissioners at 9:06 p.m. on May 5 showed that, altogether, companies sought $7.9 million. The commission’s vote to approve the loan program made it clear that no further funds would be provided after the $4.3 million was distributed.
The EDC ceased accepting applications at 5 p.m. on April 27, Atkin added in her email to the News Leader. “The majority of the applications were received in the morning,” she noted. “Prior to opening the application [acceptance period],” she continued, “we collected emails for a special ‘interested in loan list,’” which the EDC staff sent out ahead of the program launch. The firms on that loan list, Atkin explained, were provided “with eligibility criteria as well as what the applicant needed to have ready in order to apply …”
Any county company with fewer than 50 employees could seek up to $25,000, with funds to be dispersed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Atkin told the News Leader that the range of amounts sought by applicants was from $5,000 to the maximum of $25,000. “I would say the majority of applicants requested the maximum of $25,000,” she wrote in the May 6 email.
Asked about the types of businesses that applied, Atkin responded, “Very broad range. We had everything from dentists, to restaurants, to construction companies, dry cleaners, sole proprietors. The list was varied and not dominated by any specific industry or service.”
On May 1, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told the News Leader that Lewis, the governmental relations director, had reported that county staff was routing signed loan agreements through the county’s “internal payment process” — from the Office of the County Attorney to the Office of Financial Management and then to the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk and County Comptroller, where checks would be written.
As Lewis was providing an update to the County Commission on May 6, Commissioner Nancy Detert asked whether he thought all the money could be dispersed “within 10 days.”
“I believe 10 days is very realistic, yes,” Lewis responded.
“That’s wonderful,” Detert replied.
“We’re working very closely with the Clerk’s Office,” Lewis noted, with about a couple of dozen applications having reached the payment step.
Underscoring the need for business assistance, Steven Stancel, general manager of the City of Sarasota’s Economic Development Department, emailed the city administrative staff on May 4 with a breakdown of unemployment figures in Sarasota County from March 7 to April 4, the latest information available as of that time, he noted. He was using data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), he added.
Out of a Sarasota County labor force of 189,137, Stancel’s chart showed, the total number of unemployment claims for the period was 9,261. The biggest week for filings with the state ended on March 28, with 4,584 claims from people in Sarasota County. The second highest week concluded on April 4, when the number was 3,388.
The initial claims, Stancel noted, represented 4.9% of the county’s labor force.
(See the related article in this week’s issue about the City of Sarasota small business grant program.)