Auburn gives out financial aid to small businesses

Six weeks have passed since Economic Development Manager Doug Lein and his crew brought the last of two resolutions to the Auburn City Council to establish the Small Business Assistance Grant program.

And from there, to start getting $1,300 checks out to hundreds of small businesses hammered by COVID-19.

Those resolutions provided a total of $759,565 — $650,000 of it from the original $2.4 million that had come to Auburn through the CARES Act, via the Washington state Department of Commerce. The remaining $109,000 from King County came via the same channel.

As of July 24, the program had distributed $132.600. By 5 p.m. July 27, the program had approved another 28 checks, with another 25 in process for approval. The goal, Lein said, is to get 100 this week for another $130,000.

“We’re making a real effort to get the money out on the street,” Lein said.

The program’s biggest problem to date, Lein said, has been getting businesses to pay attention.

“I’ve walked in and had them say right to my face, ‘Yeah, I saw your e-mail, and I didn’t think it was real, so I deleted it,’ or ‘it must have gone to my spam folder.’ I’ve heard all the stories in the last couple of weeks. It’s about getting their attention, and making them understand that it’s real.”

“We established that $20,000 of (the money from King County) would be used for the purchase of personal protective equipment, and developing a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to distribute that,” Lein said.

“I will tell you that has already been taking place through some great work with public works. They were able to find 500 gallons of sanitizer. King County gave us through the chamber of commerce thousands of face masks, and last week there was already a distribution of those two products out to hundreds of local businesses here in town,” Lein said.

“We were able to establish some filters on our business licenses to tell us who would be available…The first official, vetted list was 450 businesses that qualified. Those were e-mailed invitations along with the application to fill it out, and get it back to us with their W-9 to be put on the list to have a check sent to them,” Lein said.

At a minimum, businesses eligible to apply for grant funds from the city must meet the following criteria:

• Have a physical presence within a commercial zone within the city. Home-based businesses do not qualify.

• Be in good standing to include having a current city business license, be current on all state and regulatory requirements and facing pending litigation or legal action, including shoreline code enforcement.

• Be a for-profit business established before Jan. 1, 2020.

• Have 10 or fewer employees, as indicated on the city’s business license application.

• Have been adversely impacted by mandatory and/or voluntary business closures directly related to the public health response related to COVID-19.

• Have selected food service, manufacturing, retail, wholesale or other for “type” of business on the city business license application.

Letters were to go out in Tuesday’s mail to anybody on the list who had not yet applied. Lein said he and his team were to pay 25 to 40 face-to-face visits to businesses on the list to get them hard copies of applications to fill out, among them, businesses with a large number of non English speakers.

The city has also determined that the following types of businesses do not qualify:

• Professional services: tax preparation and services, attorney or legal services, accounting services, bookkeeping services, financial services or environmental services.

• Retail: Convenience stores with gas stations, pawn shops, vehicle accessories sales, landscape supply sales, online sales (as primary source of sales), construction supply sales, commercial or residential paint stores and drive-through coffee stands.

•Automotive services: maintenance shops, car dealerships with maintenance/service; automotive accessories sales or service, and automotive paint shops.

• Medical: family physicians/doctors, primary care, dentists, orthodontics, natural health doctors’ offices and veterinarians;

• Food: whole food sales and distribution.

• Distribution companies, construction, construction subcontractors and construction supplies and material sales.”

After the initial funds are depleted, the city will keep applications received and track the order in which they were received. More grants could be awarded if additional funds become available, Lein said.

Local businesses can download the Small Business Assistance Grant Application (PDF) on the city’s website.

The application deadline is 5 p.m. Aug. 15, 2020. Awards will be made on a first come, first-served basis.

For information, email: or call the Office of Economic Development at 253-804-3101. Inquiries by email are highly encouraged because city staff has continuous access to email. Because of shelter-in-place orders, there is limited staff available at City Hall to respond to phone inquiries, and responses may be delayed.

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