Utah focuses on small business assistance through grants; Number of unemployment claims decrease

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah small businesses that rent a commercial property may be able to receive pandemic relief following a legislative special session and appropriation Tuesday.

As part of Senate Bill 3006, introduced by Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, the COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program includes $40 million in commercial property rental assistance.

The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development will administer the grants that will provide rental relief to Utah small businesses including nonprofits, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and those that are self-employed that have lost revenue as a result of measures taken to minimize the public’s exposure to COVID-19.

The program, along with other federal, state and local grant funding assistance such as the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce’s Greater Together Small Business Resilience Loan program is good news to many business owners.

Locally, Terry Petersen, owner of St. George-based Hybridlight, LLC was one of the first to benefit from the Chamber of Commerce’s grant, which he says will be used for payroll needs to help the company’s four full-time employees able to make ends meet.

“The loan through the chamber couldn’t have been better timing,” Petersen said. “We had four trade shows lined up for the month of March every weekend. The night before we jumped on an airplane to go to Kentucky the plug was pulled on everything.”

At the time all of the airplane tickets had been paid for, hotel rooms reserved, materials shipped to each trade show location, and within hours, all of the plans were canceled.

A Puc Expandable Lantern/Charger sold by Hybridlight, a company in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Hybridlight website, St. George News

“It was thousands of dollars,” Petersen said. “Although, we can use the (expenditures) next year, but it is money that is tied up for now.”

Hybridlight opened its doors around eight years ago. The company manufactures solar-powered flashlights that have the ability to charge cellphones. The product mix includes flashlights, lanterns, headlamps and work lights.

Along with trade shows, Hybridlight does business with brick and mortar retailers such as Big 5 Sporting Goods and Cabelas Sporting Goods, which also has been put on hold.

“Everything went from 100 miles an hour to full stop,” Petersen said. “But, this has really forced us to think outside of the box and discover other avenues to conduct business that will pay off dividends in the future.”

Petersen remains optimistic that all business lost will be made back before 2020 is over.

“It’s been a crazy thing, and I hope this is all behind us and everyone can get back at it,” he said.

To be eligible for the state’s Commercial Rental Assistance Program, applicants must:

  • Have a current lease on commercial property in the state of Utah.
  • Claim Utah as their principal place of business.
  • Be in operation with fewer than 100 employees on Feb. 15, 2020.
  • Demonstrate at least a 50% loss of gross monthly revenue after March 1, 2020, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Not received funds from the COVID-19 Agricultural Operations Grant Program funded with federal CARES Act monies.

The announcement of the grant program was issued prior to the state’s latest unemployment numbers that were released Thursday.

The numbers between April 26 and May 2, said Kevin Burt, director of Utah Unemployment Insurance Division, are trending in a “good” direction with the volume of new claims.

Last week, there were slightly more than 9,000 claims, which is 23% fewer than the nearly 12,000 claims the week before.

New claims were up slightly in Southern Utah, with 374, or 3.89%, in Washington County and 123, or 1.31%, in Iron County.

The highest claim volume since the pandemic struck Utah was 33,000.

“Although it is trending in a great direction, it continues to be a historic volume of claims,” Burt said during a press conference Thursday. “Since March 15, the Department of Workforce Services has received 146,000 unemployment claims.”

And 107,711 people continue to file weekly claims.

To put this in context, he said between 2017-19, the department received a total of 195,000 claims.

Photo by RyanKing999/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“We need to emphasize there will continue to be a disruption to our normal service levels because of processing the (number) of claims,” Burt said.

Burt urges the unemployed not to inquire about their claims because this will take away valuable time and resources. If there are issues, Workforce Services will contact the applicants directly.

Although trending in a good direction, Gov. Gary Herbert is still concerned but optimistic about the state’s economy and the number of unemployed individuals.

“We are at 9% compared to the national average of 20%,” Herbert said. “This illustrates the strength of our economy and the fundamentals of our economy, and those fundamentals are still in place. I don’t think the economy is going to recover in a V shape. … In my mind, I see like a Nike Swoosh … a gradual state of recovery.”

According to state officials, the COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program will help many of Utah’s commercial property leasees in need of financial help because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Val Hale, economic development’s executive director, thanked the Utah Legislature for allocating $40 million in federal CARES Act funds to the program and hoped the grants are distributed to help Utah’s small businesses get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

The percentage of assistance will be based on a formula that takes into account the company’s loss of gross revenue and whether the company received funds from the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program managed by the United States Small Business Administration.

Hale told St. George News the grants are not loans and do not have to be paid back.

For applicants that did not receive federal funds, grant amounts will be $10,000 or up to 100% of monthly rent for businesses that have a monthly gross revenue loss of 71% or more, or 50% of monthly rent with a monthly gross revenue loss between 50-70%.

For applicants that did receive the funds, grant amounts shift to $5,000 or 50% of monthly rent with a monthly gross revenue loss of 71% or more or 25% of monthly rent with a monthly gross revenue loss between 50-70%.

Qualifying businesses and nonprofits may apply at coronavirus.utah.gov beginning May 11, 2020, at 9 a.m. Completed applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The application process will remain open until all grant funds are used.

To prepare for submitting applications on May 11, grant eligibility and required documentation are now available at coronavirus.utah.gov and on Economic Development’s website. Checks will begin mailing on May 15.

For more information email [email protected].

St. George News reporter CHRIS REED contributed to this article.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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