WORTHINGTON — From Worthington’s 10th Street to Oxford Street, and from small-town shops to home-based operations across Nobles County, small business owners are able to breathe a little easier after being awarded grants through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

When Nobles County offered up to $2.2 million in CARES Act funds in a 2:1 match with cities and townships, its intent was to put money in the hands of small businesses owners impacted by the global pandemic. Its partnership with the city of Worthington has resulted in a nearly $2 million infusion into the county’s economy.

In the first round of funding, grants were awarded to 140 local businesses, according to Jorge Lopez, contracted by the city of Worthington as the liaison between government and small business owners. The second round of applications, anticipated to be approved this week, includes requests from 65 businesses within the county, 51 from within the city of Worthington, and nearly 40 applications (totaling $75,000) from non-profits such as churches, service organizations and community programs ineligible to apply during the first round of funding.

Worthington Assistant City Administrator and Director of Economic Development Jason Brisson said he thinks the program did a lot of good within Nobles County and the city of Worthington.

“Some of the businesses I talked to said this was going to keep them in business, and without this program, they weren’t sure that would be the case,” Brisson said.

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At the same time, Brisson said a lion’s share of the businesses within the county didn’t apply for funding — presumably because they didn’t meet the requirements. The program was open to businesses with 50 or fewer employees, and applicants had to demonstrate at least a 10% revenue loss between March and May 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019.

“That makes me feel like we are weathering the storm better than some communities,” Brisson said. “Then again, everybody’s scared about the winter, and so are we.

“It looks like we won’t get another round of funding,” he added. “We’re optimistic and holding our breath that businesses going in the fall will hold out.”

Knocking on doors

When Lopez began going door to door to businesses in Worthington to inform them of the available CARES grants, he ran into some very skeptical business owners.

“Free money? Where does that happen?” Lopez said they asked. “The way they were reacting, they thought it was a scam.”

Armed with all of the details and the city’s contact information, Lopez even offered to help business owners complete the application form.

“I got the opportunity to meet a lot of the businesses that I didn’t frequent enough and listen to their stories,” Lopez said. “With this pandemic, we need to be spending more time with our local businesses. They need the help.

“Stopping by and talking to these people — wear a mask and maybe buy a trinket — it helps their soul and (lets them know) they’re supported by this community,” he added.

Lopez said when one grant recipient began to cry after learning her application was accepted, it ripped at his heart.

“This is why we’re doing what we’re doing here,” Lopez said. “There are some touching stories from people.”

Funds still remain

According to Brisson, Nobles County still has about $1.2 million in CARES Act funds remaining, while the city of Worthington has about $140,000. Last week, the county board and the city council delegated representatives from their respective group to be part of a joint committee to recommend how the remaining dollars may be spent.

“We have some additional requests for funding and we have to go back to our CARES Act worksheet to see what’s eligible,” said Brisson, noting that there are requests from several institutions that didn’t qualify for the program, such as health care and long-term care facilities and schools.