The North Dakota Department of Commerce has created a grant program to help businesses boost revenue by increasing consumer confidence.

The Economic Resiliency Grant Program, approved in late June, sets aside $69 million for successful applicants to make COVID-19 mitigation improvements to their businesses. The program is funded by federal CARES Act money given to the state in late April. The goal is getting customers back in the doors. Businesses can receive up to $50,000 to make the improvements, and the application process is expected to begin July 24.

“The Commerce Department is committed to assisting businesses with mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19,” stated Michelle Kommer, commerce commissioner, in a message on her department’s website. “The purpose of the grant is to provide businesses one-time funding to increase customer and employee safety through improved infection control, with the ultimate purpose of inspiring consumers to return to the marketplace.”

The details of the programs are still being worked out, including the criteria, forms and other paperwork needed to apply. Business owners will be able to apply through an online portal, most likely on the Commerce Department’s website. The funding will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, and most privately owned businesses should be able to apply.

The ERG program, according to James Leiman, economic development and finance director for the commerce department, is not only for inspiring consumer confidence and reducing the spread of COVID-19. The program is a way to provide companies with funding for projects not allowed for under the Payment Protection Program, or the U.S. Small Business Administration’s economic injury loan.

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Those programs limited funding to salaries, certain operating costs and mortgage interest, among others. The ERG is designed to boost the revenue side of the balance sheet, versus the expenditure side. A company, could, for example, use the funding to purchase plastic shielding to better separate customers and staff -- an improvement that could put customers’ minds at ease.

“If you’re a restaurant, you can go to your customers and say ‘It’s safe here now’,” said Leiman.

The resilience grants will function conversely to PPP or SBA loans. As a grant, it doesn’t need to be paid back, and funding cannot be used to cover operating costs or overhead expenses.

Further details about the ERG will be forthcoming in a mid-July online Commerce Department business briefing, held in conjunction with the Greater Chamber of North Dakota.