EAST WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Regional Port Authority is establishing a grant program to assist small businesses with paying rent and buying personal protective equipment.
Commissioners in a meeting Tuesday approved the use of $200,000 in port funds for the program. Each grant will be capped at $1,000.
To qualify, businesses must have fewer than 10 full-time employees, be located in Chelan or Douglas counties and have not received any other federal or state funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to port commission meeting documents.
Two types of grants will be offered. The first is a matching program to assist with rent payments. The landlord and tenant would each contribute one third of the rent and the port would cover the remaining third, up to $1,000.
The second is a grant to cover the purchase of specific supplies needed for reopening a business, such as masks, gloves, thermometers, Plexiglas or hand-washing stations.
The port is administering a few other grant programs for small businesses, but this is the first time it’s allocated its own funds for the purpose.
It’s “uncharted waters,” since ports in the state have historically been barred from issuing direct payments to private businesses, CEO Jim Kuntz said after the meeting. Ports could buy property and services, but couldn’t issue pure cash grants.
Then, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on April 6 issued a memo that expressly provided governments the authority to issue cash grants to businesses, given the circumstances of the pandemic.
“The attorney general is making the argument that this is a very unique circumstance and governments should feel empowered to do whatever they can do to hold up an economy that could very well be fractured,” Kuntz said.
The port will pay the grants out of its general fund, which is mostly made up of property tax revenue.
“The commission feels strongly that this is necessary, it’s unique and likely to never be repeated again,” Kuntz said.
The port is also coordinating local applications for the state’s Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grants program, which has allocated $10 million for businesses across the state.
The port has received more than 900 applications from Chelan and Douglas counties. It expects $669,400 in $5,000 grants to be provided to 143 businesses in the two counties. The state is expected to announce recipients of that program any day, Kuntz said.
Both county governments and the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are also providing the port with community development block grant funding to extend its small business grant distribution.
All together, the outside funding is expected to pay for a total of $926,390 in grants for 194 businesses in Chelan and Douglas counties. That doesn’t include the newly approved $200,000 in port dollars.
The organization is also exploring longer-term options for stimulating the economy.
The idea of a North Central Washington-specific e-commerce website was raised in the commission meeting Tuesday. Similar to Amazon, it would provide customers a directory of goods or services to buy from local businesses.
A Greater Wenatchee “Bucks” program was also proposed. People could purchase a discounted fiat currency subsidized by the port and redeem it at participating businesses.
Tenino, a small town in Thurston County, implemented a similar model during the Great Depression. It created wooden money to stimulate its economy.
The town is again creating and distributing the wooden dollars to help residents struggling with the pandemic shutdown, Q13 Fox reported.