Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council, says the Waterville Region Small Business Grant program is meant to benefit small businesses, entrepreneurs or sole proprietors needing an infusion of cash because of the coronavirus pandemic. Morning Sentinel file

Small businesses, entrepreneurs or sole proprietors in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Oakland needing an infusion of cash because of  the coronavirus pandemic are being invited by the Central Maine Growth Council to apply for grants of up to $2,000.

The Growth Council on Tuesday launched the Waterville Region Small Business Grant program, meant to help businesses cover expenses and the region retain, expand and attract small businesses and talent.

“The regional geography reflects CMGC’s service area, its belief in the importance of regional approaches to economic growth, and the region’s collaborative commitment to an aggressive and successful economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a prepared statement from the Growth Council.

Garvan Donegan, the council’s director of planning and economic development, said in a telephone interview Tuesday the program has about $40,000 now, and the council is working with businesses and community leaders to raise more money for the grant program.

“The name of the game with this grant program is speed and time limits,” Donegan said. “We wanted to get it off the ground, but we want to grow it in the coming weeks and months.”

Startup funds for the grants include $10,000 from Colby College; $10,000 from the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation, which includes a matching challenge; and $5,000 from Central Maine Motors Auto Group in Waterville.

Applicants may go to www.centralmaine.org/covid-19 to read grant program materials, review eligibility requirements and apply. Questions should be directed to [email protected] or 207-680-7300.

Donegan said small businesses, including home-based operations, are not required to match the grant funding, which is a direct infusion of cash. He urged businesses and entrepreneurs to apply as quickly as possible because the program is likely to be utilized broadly.

“We really want to deploy funds that focus on resiliency and making sure businesses in mid-Maine are sustainable now and in the coming years,” Donegan said.

Those applying for the grants must have fewer than 20 employees, according to Donegan.

“We believe that’s where the dollars will have the greatest impact,” he said.

He said many small and midsize businesses have incurred additional costs for items, such as personal protective equipment during the pandemic, and the grant program seeks to help with the increased expenses. The grants are also intended to help with payroll, rent, manufacturing certain items or e-commerce tools for selling services or products online.

Donegan said businesses that have received COVID-19 financing through state or federal programs may apply for the local grants, but priority will be given to applicants who have received $15,000 or less, were denied funding or never received assistance.

“We’ll be looking at each project on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Business applicants must be in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield or Oakland; must fill out applications online; and must have a specific initiative, purpose or project, according to Donegan. The grant program is not available to nonprofits.

Donegan said that in March, as COVID-19 created an unprecedented challenge for Maine businesses, the council worked hard to support business owners, entrepreneurs and its employees, driving timely investments, supporting economic activity and steering applications to indirect and direct funding programs.

The Waterville Region Small Business Grant program is an evolution of the council’s assistance to businesses and local communities, providing support as businesses reopen and federal and state funding programs reach capacity, according to Donegan.

Chris Gaunce, chairperson of the Growth Council’s board of directors and co-owner of Central Maine Motors Auto Group, said: “We have to learn the lesson from COVID-19 that, going forward, we must ensure that our region — as well as our state — is more resilient than it has ever been. How we approach the challenge of recovery from the pandemic will define the region and whether it is stronger and better prepared for the future.”

Donegan said to be resilient, the region must have a diverse economy, locally invested and less susceptible to economic downturns. The region must focus on small, midsize and family businesses, and make sure conditions are right for growth to occur. Such condition would include grant programs, technical assistance and support for businesses.

“It’s almost kind of looking at our family budget and income,” Donegan said, “and thinking about how it can be played out so as not to be hit too hard by one crisis or health issue.”

He added: “We are confident that the economic fundamentals of Waterville and the mid-Maine region are strong, and CMGC’s economic development strategy, including the deployment of the Waterville Region Small Business Grant, aims to bring sustainability to these fundamentals.”

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