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Our View: Emergency fund provides temporary tonic for Carroll County small businesses

We know, in Carroll County, what small businesses look like. They certainly don’t look like Ruth’s Chris Streak House or Shake Shack, among the mega businesses shamed into returning tens of millions in federal loans earmarked for small businesses.

In Carroll, small businesses can be found on the many Main Streets and in dozens of strip malls and hundreds of houses. They’re owned by friends and neighbors. Jack Lyburn, the county’s director of economic development, calls small businesses the “backbone” of our community.

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And they’re hurting. The coronavirus pandemic, the stay-at-home orders, the closures of “nonessential” businesses, it’s all serving to break that backbone.

We’re sure they’re doing whatever they can during these difficult times, including applying for federal grants and loans, but we’re glad Carroll County government provided them a local option as well.

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The Board of County Commissioners created the Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant Fund on March 31, paving the way for checks of $1,250 apiece to be sent out to hundreds of small businesses throughout Carroll. According to Lyburn, 600 checks will soon have been sent out by the end of next week.

In all, more than $750,000 will have one directly to owners of small businesses. The money comes from a small business loan fund that was set up about seven years ago to help businesses that couldn’t get loans from banks. Lyburn said the fund had not been heavily utilized lately, so he offered it to the commissioners when they sought a way to help local businesses suffering during the downturn in economic activity resulting from the pandemic.

Now, $1,250 isn’t a solution. But it is a temporary tonic.

Maybe some businesses will use it to help with rent. Maybe some to help with payroll. Maybe, for some, it will be the difference between staying open and closing or perhaps being able to reopen or remain closed once the crisis has abated enough to allow Gov. Larry Hogan to restart the state’s economy.

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The cash infusion is much-needed, that’s for sure. The county received 160 applications from home-based businesses and sole proprietors within 45 minutes when the portal opened to them, according to Lyburn.

Savage Dance Company, in Eldersburg, is one example of a small business putting this emergency fund to use.

Owner Nikki Savage told us she never thought her business would need to plan to accommodate for something like this as they had been “running a well-oiled machine.” Then came the pandemic and the governor’s first executive orders and Savage Dance Company had to close its doors on March 13.

Savage — who said her company applied for the emergency fund, was quickly accepted and soon received a check — told us she’s using the money to establish an online registration program and provide students with access to professional dance classes online.

“It’s going to help me keep my business afloat,” Savage said.

We hope the fund is able to do that for numerous small businesses, all over Carroll County.

Phase 3 of the funding is expected to begin soon and the application portal will open sometime this week, according to the county. Businesses should apply online at https://carrollbiz.org. Grants are given on a first-come, first-served basis. Businesses may apply for funding to support payroll, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or other similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business operations, according to the fund’s website.

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