BISMARCK, N.D. – The North Dakota Department of Commerce will hold a virtual meeting this Thursday, July 30, about a grant program aimed to help businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Economic Resiliency Grant program was slated to open the application period on Friday, July 31, but the department said there has been a slight delay and likely won’t be available until sometime next week or soon thereafter.

Regardless, the virtual business meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday to explain more about the resiliency grants and walk participants through the application process.

The program offers grants of up to $50,000 to qualified businesses who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic – those that had to temporarily close or restrict customers from coming into their places of business. Larger grants, those of up to $100,000, are available for businesses that have multiple locations.

Money from the grants must only be used to make improvements to businesses for the purpose of reducing the spread of infection and instilling consumer confidence in the marketplace, said Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer, such as installing touchless features or technology to manage services.

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Besides the obvious – helping to reduce virus spread – Kommer said she believes there are at least two other benefits from such improvements.

“One is that customers, knowing that a company such as a restaurant or barber shop, has made specific improvements to reduce the spread of infection is going to make them more comfortable visiting,” she said. “But the second thing is just as important but perhaps not as direct, which is that we're helping to build a COVID-resistant economy in North Dakota” that hopefully will attract the eye of future investors and other businesses.

“So perhaps these investments can also encourage growth as other companies look to North Dakota as a place to bring their business because we have made these investments,” she said.

Kommer said a sort of checks and balances will be in place during the application process to make sure money will be used appropriately.

The grants – these are not loans, she said – also are retroactive dating back to March 27, so owners who already have spent money on upgrading their business to make it more user-friendly and safer during the pandemic can be reimbursed.

As of right now, the deadline to get applications submitted is Aug. 17 but that may also be extended since the application period is delayed. Those awarded with grants will be notified on Sept. 11 and funds will be dispersed on Sept. 25. Kommer said grant money must be used by Dec. 29.

“Every day that passes is one day less to use the money,” she said, noting the department is trying to get the system application-ready as soon as possible.

“We’re working with the (technical) team to develop the system that is streamlined online and contains a number of controls inherent to the application itself. We've been doing that, what is a four- to six-month project, in about a month’s time. We've got people working really extreme hours to get this system ready to be open to the public. It's not just to show off that we're trying to do a four- to six-month project in one month; it's because this money has an expiration date.”

For Thursday’s virtual business meeting, visitors can visit the North Dakota Department of Commerce website or any of its social media channels to participate. Kommer said this will be a way for business owners and managers to learn more about the application process.

“We're going to reiterate what this grant is for, what's eligible and what's not eligible,” she said. “And we are going to walk participants through the application so they can see it.”

Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or aweeks@prairiebusinessmagazine.com