Jodie Perry

Jodie Perry, president & CEO of Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield and Richland County small businesses will share a pot of $500,000 in COVID-19 relief funds through a program that includes the City of Mansfield, Richland County commissioners and the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development.

County commissioners approved a contract for the grant program Thursday, the same proposal authorized by Mansfield City Council on Tuesday night.

Both the county and city will spend $275,000 in federal CARES Act relief funds in the effort, with the chamber collecting $50,000 to create and administer the program, which will be done online through the chamber website.

Commissioners voted unanimously during a meeting with Jodie Perry, president & CEO of the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, who said she would be discussing the program Thursday afternoon with Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker.

One question to be answered is the maximum amount of each small business grant. Theaker on Tuesday night said the maximum grant would be $10,000. Commissioners have discussed a maximum of $5,000 for a small business with between two and 20 employees and $2,000 maximum for a sole proprietor. 

Both the mayor and commissioners indicated a willingness to be flexible on the amount. Commissioners said Tuesday they believe the maximum amounts should be the same for the county and city funds.

Perry, who said she began talking about the program with Commissioner Marilyn John in late June/early July, said she would discuss the issue with Theaker on Thursday and commissioners said they would revisit the dollar amount when they meet next week.

"Small businesses in Richland County have really been impacted by the coronavirus and the shutdowns that came with it," Perry said. "Many are still struggling and some are concerned they will not weather (the crisis).  Many are operating on low profit margins.

"When (commissioners) reached out and said the county has money that could be given to small businesses, I thought that was a phenomenal idea," Perry said.

The chamber leader said the local program is "loosely" based on one done in Akron and Summit County, though it has been adjusted to better meet local needs. It will be a reimbursement program, allowing businesses to recover costs for things like payroll, rent, etc.

The program will be open to small businesses that employ 20 or fewer FTEs with a revenue cap of $1.5 million in 2019.

Perry said the chamber hopes to have the application on its website by Aug 31. She said applications would be taken through the end of Sept. 11 and grants would be announced publicly two weeks later.

Applications will be scored on a "rubric" that will take into account things like how a business has been impacted by COVID-19; how long the business has been in operation; the experience of its owner; number of employees, etc.

"Our goal is to save as many jobs as we can," Perry said. "We will also look at things like minority-owned businesses, business owned by veterans or women; and its location ... is it in a distressed zip code? Is it a business that is likely going to make it?" Perry said. "Those are some of the broad questions."

She said the chamber will post information about the program on its website before the application goes live on Aug. 31. Perry also said she expects more businesses will apply than there are available grants. A "waiting list" would be established that would be provided grants if additional funds become available.

"A program like this is really awesome and I appreciate your leadership on it," Perry told commissioners.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners decided against a proposal by Mansfield resident to put his Christmas "tree lights" on the front lawn of the courthouse this holiday season.

Scott Trumpower -- who designed the outdoor forest of "tree light" displays at Kingwood Center Gardens and a 70-foot "light tree" on top of the Mansfield Municipal Building last holiday season -- pitched a similar idea to commissioners.

Trumpower, a 1977 graduate of Mansfield Senior High School, told commissioners Aug. 11 he could construct about 100 two-dimensional "trees" on the lawn, lights around the building's arches and add one to the courthouse roof at a cost of $18,865.

"In my opinion, the amount of money and the circumstances surrounding this year, I don't think we should even consider it," Commissioner Darrell Banks said.

Commissioner Tony Vero agreed, saying, "We asked a lot of (county) departments to tighten their belts this year. It would be a bad look to then turn around and spend $20,000 on Christmas lights."

John also agreed the expense was too much.

"I am just going to say, in this year of coronavirus, I certainly hope no one thinks we are cancelling Christmas. We have not had a lot to hope for this year. I am looking for a bright Christmas," she said.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"