Monday, April 12, 2021

BCEDC helps businesses navigate pandemic's challenges

by CAMERON RASMUSSEN Contributing Writer
| March 31, 2021 1:00 AM

It’s safe to say no one expected the challenges 2020 threw at us. A global pandemic has a way of disrupting business as usual. That’s the beauty of community, though — when times get tough, people band together to help each other through them.

The Bonner County Economic Development Corporation knew it had a useful role to play in assisting businesses through their pandemic trials. In the earliest days of the pandemic, the board and staff of the nonprofit organization did what they do in more normal times: provide useful information.

One of the central functions of the Bonner County EDC is to serve as an intermediary for the greater business community. Positioned at the intersection between small businesses, larger employers and local, state and federal government, the Bonner County EDC helps people of all stripes find the connections and programs they need.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, that role didn’t change. The Bonner County EDC website transformed into a comprehensive resource guide, pointing toward the most recent, accurate information on how to ready businesses, keep employees and patrons safe and apply for assistance programs. When the U.S. Congress passed the first round of emergency stimulus funding, the EDC information center updated its website to break down the bill’s contents, explain how to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and access other CARES Act services.

Good information is its own valuable resource in the midst of a crisis. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary action, and fortunately, the Bonner County EDC was able to take more direct action assisting local business.

Thanks to grant funding from the Innovia Foundation, the Bonner County EDC established the Economic Response and Recovery Fund. This fund opened local businesses to a suite of professional services they might not have been able to afford during the crisis.

Program planning began by compiling a list of local professional service providers, covering the gamut of legal, accounting, marketing and financial planning services. When the organizational framework was established, the nonprofit opened its application process. Local businesses seeking funding simply explained how it intended to use funding, and after approval, they connected with the local service provider of their choice.

The ERR Fund wasn’t just a way to get local businesses the services that might otherwise be unaffordable. It was also a great way to funnel business toward the community’s terrific professional service providers. And best of all, since everyone involved worked within Bonner County, the grant funding stayed within the community.

ERR funding went out in two waves: one in the summer, and another in the winter. It was a terrific way to provide real, tangible assistance for the Main Street businesses that form the backbone of our local economy. People live in Bonner County for a reason — we stick together despite the challenges. And 2020 taught a few lessons about the beauty of neighbors helping neighbors.

Cameron Rasmusson is an economic development associate with Bonner County Economic Development Corporation.