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Florence leaders set up grants for businesses hurt by coronavirus as county expects rise in cases

Businesses can apply for the Florence First grant starting Friday.

Posted: May 6, 2020 3:13 PM
Updated: May 6, 2020 8:41 PM

Wednesday, leaders with the city of Florence, Lauderdale County, the Florence City School System, and the University of North Alabama held a joint press conference on the coronavirus pandemic.

Lauderdale County EMA Director George Grabryan said the number of cases in Lauderdale County is expected to rise because testing is more readily available. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday there were 69 confirmed cases in Lauderdale County, and two deaths. In total 1,816 people in the county have been tested.

University of North Alabama President Ken Kitts said the university has developed a coronavirus task force to help the university navigate these uncertain times.

Freshman orientation will be done virtually this summer. All classes this summer will be online too.

This fall, Kitts said they will have in-person classes but they will have plans in the event of another coronavirus outbreak.

"We stand ready to adjust as necessary. We've taken a lot of notes and we are prepared to take any additional steps and assist our students," said Kitts.

WAAY 31 asked Kitts how the coronavirus will effect campus life in the fall. Normally, campus is abuzz with student events and mass gatherings.

"We are going to take a long hard look at those gatherings. I think some will be handled differently. Perhaps reducing the number of participants some might move into virtual format," said Kitts.

The biggest announcement of the press conference came from the city's planning and community development director, Melissa Bailey.

She announced the city has set aside a little more than $180,000 in grants to give to eligible local businesses who apply. Businesses who get the grants will not have to pay the money back.

Bailey said the funding for the Florence First program came from the CARES Act signed into law by President Donald Trump to help the U.S. combat the coronavirus.

The city will start taking applications for the grants at 6 a.m. Friday.

To qualify you must have a current Florence business license, if your businesses is a chain business the parent company must be located in Florence city limits, a business can't be delinquent on any state, federal, or local payments and fines, and must prove how the coronavirus has effected the business. You must also fill out everything on the application and provide documents to the city as well.

Bailey said the city will review each application and determine how much a qualifying business will get based off a points system.

For instance, a business can get a lot of points for employee retention. The points system will determine which businesses should get grant money and how much. The city said it's wanting to help local businesses pay for things like utilities and rent.

"There is no maximum, amount however you're only submitting two months of these fixed expenses we've asked for," said Bailey. "We can cover those fixed expenses at least for a couple of months and that way it lessens your burden on the loan end,"

Melissa Jacobs owns a businesses in downtown Florence named Bare Beauty. Her businesses specializes in skin, eyebrows and lashes. She's been shut down almost two months due to restrictions put in place by coronavirus health orders issued by Gov. Kay Ivey.

"We're having to come up with other ideas as to how to stay a float. So for Mother's Day were doing a take home facial kit," said Jacobs. "Failure and closing for right now is not an option."

Jacobs said she just heard about the city's grant opportunity for businesses like hers. She said she's thinking about applying.

"My first thought is I think it's amazing that Florence is able to do this for small business owners so my initial reaction is yes lets apply for it then let me figure out how to use the money whether it's to help staff or to pay our rent so we keep the doors open because that's the most important thing," said Jacobs.

While Jacobs said she's looking into the grant process it would really help if she could just re-open her business.

Ivey is expected to announce the state's next reopening phase sometime next week.

You can click here to learn more about the Florence First grant for local businesses. The entire application process will be done online. 

On May 7th there will be a webinar held at 2 p.m. to help businesses apply for the grant. Businesses will also get 10 bonus points for the webinar. Businesses can officially start applying on May 8th at 6 a.m. The application window will close on May 14th. On May 22nd businesses will find out if they will get any of the grant money. 

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