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County EDA gets $600,000 to disburse

By Staff | Aug 23, 2020

The Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) decided to go forward with a $5,000 grant and a $15,000 zero percent loan to Bevcomm to help with a broadband Internet project in the county.

Last Tuesday morning, during their County Board meeting, the Faribault County Commissioners decided to give the Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) $600,000 from the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

Later that same day, last Tuesday, the EDA went to work to figure out how best to use these funds.

“At our last meeting we had planned to ask the County Board for up to $250,000 in CARES Act funds,” said EDA specialist Annie Leibel. “But, after I talked to Darren Esser (county auditor/treasurer/ coordinator), he suggested a larger amount and the county commissioners agreed.”

Leibel told the members of the County EDA she already had a possible plan to disperse the money.

She proposed using $43,000 to pay loan payments for businesses who had loans through the EDA and were in good standing in their repayments schedules.

Then the EDA could use $355,000 for business grants to those county businesses which could prove they were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Another $198,000 could go to non-profit groups, for loans up to $3,000.

Lastly, $1,311 could be used to increase the EDA’s contract with Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) to give Leibel another four hours each week to implement all these new programs.

Leibel said she already had ads ready to go in local newspapers to advertise the new grant programs.

“We would start taking applications as of Aug. 31, for the first round,” Leibel said. “We would go through Sept. 17, with another ad going out on Sept. 7.”

The board approved the Business Relief Grant Program, with the addition of adding that preference would be given to veteran, women and minority-owned businesses.

However, the grants to non-profits idea created a lot of discussion among board members.

One issue had to do with how to have entities prove they are non-profits. While some have 501(3)(c) non-profit status, others do not.

“I think if they have some type of statement, that should be good enough,” EDA member Lars Bierly said.

Another concern was the plan to have three different categories for the non-profits, with set amounts for the grants in each category.

That included making sure the grants were spent on qualified items.

“We want to flow the money out where it is needed,” said EDA chairman John Herman. “Just not get our butts in trouble for giving it out inappropriately.”

In the end the board decided to wait and see how many requests they get from each category, then decide how much they should grant, and shift the amounts up or down as needed.

The board also decided to make it a first come, first served situation. They decided that applications received by mail would be dated when received, not when postmarked.

The EDA board had no issues with following the wishes of the County Board for another CARES Act fund disbursement.

Bevcomm president Bill Eckles was present virtually at the EDA Zoom meeting to present his request for both a loan and grant for Bevcomm’s broadband Internet expansion project.

Eckles showed a map of the county to show where Bevcomm has put Internet broadband access into rural areas of the county, and where the newest expansions will now go.

“Last year the EDA agreed to loaning Bevcomm $30,000 when we applied for a State of Minnesota Broadband Grant,” Eckles said. “We agreed that loan will be paid back when the first customer is hooked up to the new broadband Internet area.”

Eckles says it is important for their application to the state to show community support.

The EDA agreed to follow the recommendation of the County Board to give a $5,000 grant to Bevcomm to go towards this project and show support for it.

They also agreed to a $15,000 loan at zero percent interest which will be paid back in full when the first customer hooks up.

The project will serve 429 homes and have a total cost of $3.9 million, with 40 percent of the cost covered by the state broadband grant.

Eckles said they hope to start construction in the spring of 2021, and the following year start signing up customers.

In other business, the EDA board:

Heard a county-wide survey follow-up from Leibel.

The EDA had completed a recent survey and Leibel put the results into three themes Housing, Business and New Business.

Action plans on the three themes included possibly doing a housing survey, making businesses aware of ways the EDA can be of assistance.

The board agreed this is a bigger discussion area that can be addressed over several meetings.

The next County EDA meeting was set for Sept. 22 and will be held in-person at the Ag Center in Blue Earth.