Local officials create fund for struggling small businesses — and need your donations

David Floyd • Apr 18, 2020 at 11:18 AM

Local economic leaders have established a new, donation-supported fund designed to help small businesses in the region recover from the economic hardships produced by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We need businesses who have the resources to give,” said Andy Dietrich, former chairman of the Johnson City Area Chamber of Commerce, during a remote press conference Friday. “We need local citizens and families to give. If we all contribute, we can share those funds with businesses from across the region, who can apply for a grant that will be enough to keep those businesses alive until they can recover.”

Dietrich said leaders assembled the Local Business Recovery Fund because many small business owners have been unable to secure loans or access funding through the paycheck protection program, a pool of forgivable loans created through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which is awaiting further funding from Congress.

The local recovery fund is tailored toward businesses involved in the arts, entertainment or recreation, accommodation and food services, retail trade and the manufacturing sector.

In Tennessee, the fund serves Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties and Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise counties in Virginia.

Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees to qualify.

Dietrich said a committee comprised of educators, bankers, certified public accountants, health care professionals and economic development officials will review grant applications, which businesses can submit online at regionahead.com.

“The committee will review every application and judge those in the greatest need,” Dietrich said. “The amount of money a grant can provide will depend on how much we can give to the fund, thus the urgency in receiving your donations.”

Donations can be submitted online at regionahead.com, the website for the Appalachian Highlands Economic Aid Directory. Individuals can also mail checks to Local Business Recovery Fund, 603 E. Market St., Johnson City TN 37601.

Dietrich said the number of businesses the fund can help will depend on the amount of money it takes in. He noted that 100% of the donated money will go to small businesses.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Cantler said the fund started Friday with a few thousand dollars, but he added that many organizations and donors are sending in checks.

Cantler said leaders hope to give a significant enough amount of money to businesses to assist with payroll, rent and other needs. The precise amount, however, will depend on available funding.

Reid Burton, the owner of Braeden’s BBQ & Catering in Kingsport, said his business has had to “reinvent” itself in light of COVID-19, moving to takeout rather than dine-in service. He noted that much of his business relies on catering.

“Think about the ripple event with every wedding that’s missed,” he said. “It’s down to the catering, the cake maker, the venue, the DJ, the dresses. There’s a lot of small businesses affected by every event that somebody is missing.”

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