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Council Perspective: Helping businesses navigate the pandemic

By Mayor Anne Burt

a masked small business owner takes inventoryHappy New Year! I'm so excited for life to return to some type of normalcy this year. When that time comes, it will be important that our businesses are still able to provide the goods and services we've come to enjoy and expect from them. I want to share more about how our businesses are being supported during the pandemic and explain how the city is helping businesses adapt to the challenges they are facing.

Access to financial support
Woodbury businesses had access to federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) through the Washington County Community Development Agency (CDA). These federal funds provided a needed source of emergency cash flow to local businesses during the pandemic. The city helped facilitate some transactions by ensuring qualifying businesses were aware of these and other relief programs. In some cases, staff was able to help businesses navigate the application process by connecting businesses to the programs that best fit their needs. 

The CDA offered three separate application periods to provide grants to businesses impacted by the pandemic, which included both home-based businesses and those with employees. Businesses with up to $5 million in annual revenue and fewer than 50 employees were eligible. To be eligible a business must have incurred increased costs because of the pandemic or a loss of revenue. In total, approximately $6 million in CRF was distributed to small businesses across the county as of Dec. 1, 2020. 
As of Dec. 1, 2020, one-hundred-twenty-two Woodbury businesses had received a total of $1.53 million in CRF grants. Roughly one-quarter of the CRF emergency grants awarded by the CDA were issued to Woodbury businesses. The average grant amount in Woodbury was approximately $12,500 and spanned several industries:

  • Restaurant/food industry/hospitality (23 grants)
  • Health care/medical/dental (18)
  • Fitness/dance/gym (13)
  • Hair salon/beauty/spa (15)
  • Retail (11)
  • Daycare (child, adult)/learning/music lessons/tutoring - 15
  • Miscellaneous/services - 27

In addition to helping connect businesses to financial support, the city has modified its regulations to address the challenges our businesses are facing during the pandemic. Here's how:

  1. Changes to regulations to allow for greater outdoor dining opportunities
    On May 20, 2020, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order outlining the safety requirements for the opening of restaurants at that time. Businesses were required to have a plan in place to safely reopen to the public that reflected social distancing requirements and complied with limits imposed on the number of customers that may be served at one time in outdoor settings only.

    The city anticipated businesses would need to add more outdoor dining spaces to accommodate customers while complying with the executive order. The ordinance language was updated to allow city staff the ability to extend interim permits for temporary outdoor events beyond 10 business days during declared state, national or local emergencies. Businesses were not charged for the permits.

  2. Rebated liquor license fees
    The city also rebated liquor license fees to the entities mostly impacted by the governor's order in May 2020. The first two rounds of rebates were provided last summer and the last four months of this cycle's liquor license fees will be rebated to businesses in good standing through a credit for next year's liquor license payment cycle. In addition, when the annual liquor license renewal process begins in January, businesses will not be required to pay the annual license fee until June 2021.

  3. Signage
    The city implemented procedural modifications related to commercial code enforcement to help navigate impacts from the issued executive orders.

While it was done for other purposes and not in response to the pandemic, the city also made changes to its charitable gambling ordinance to make it easier for small businesses and local nonprofit organizations to participate, which benefits our businesses and nonprofit groups.

More support on the way
Despite initial concerns about a potential slowdown due to the pandemic, Woodbury's residential growth has continued at a healthy pace. This activity spurs economic development growth and helps all of our existing businesses. 

The state legislature has passed a $216.5 million additional aid package to Minnesota businesses suffering during the pandemic. On Dec. 16, 2020, Gov. Walz signed the bill into law. We don't fully understand yet how much of these dollars will be allocated to Woodbury businesses, so please continue supporting our amazing business community!