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Jayme Sweere's wellness and yoga therapy practice pivoted from a storefront to a virtual and outdoor model due to COVID-19. The business received county CARES Act funds.
Jayme Sweere's wellness and yoga therapy practice pivoted from a storefront to a virtual and outdoor model due to COVID-19. The business received county CARES Act funds.

Small businesses prioritized in American Rescue Plan funding

Greene County gears up to distribute more federal stimulus relief dollars

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County officials expect to formally begin accepting applications this month from businesses and organizations eager to secure a portion of $57 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds directed to Greene County by Congress.

The first deposit of $28 million arrived at the county in May 2021, with the second deposit due to be received July 1. Nine months have passed between the first deposit and the opening of applications, but Commissioner Bob Dixon said the timing was out of the county’s control.

“Our biggest challenge has been the long-awaited, and I do say long-awaited, federal guidance,” Dixon said.

That guidance arrived in late January, and until it arrived, the county had relied on interim rules that were subject to change, Dixon said.

The county used the lead time to prepare, forming a committee and conducting a community-based survey across the county and in each of its municipalities.

The county also benefits from its experience in distributing $34 million in funds from the 2020 federal relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

An executive summary on the county’s website shows that for CARES, 602 applications were received from small businesses, with $5.7 million awarded to 467 applicants.

Dixon said the small-business portion of $57 million in available ARPA funds will focus on businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

“The commission really identified small businesses as the backbone of community revitalization,” Dixon said. “Small businesses are going to be at the forefront of economic recovery, if there’s going to be one.”

The county announced its nine-member ARPA committee, which will be led by business owner Lyle Foster, on Jan. 20. Foster also led the 30-member CARES team.

Foster echoed Dixon’s commitment to supporting small businesses.

“One of the primary categories for funding is revenue shortfall, but we’re also looking at people who may be doing what I would call a COVID pivot,” Foster said.

Foster described these businesses as ones that found ways to adapt to the new realities brought by the pandemic. These included retrofits that encourage safety for workers or customers, and they also include those who embraced new practices or technologies.

Dixon said although the application portal is not yet open, the county has already received letters of interest from businesses with requests totaling over $80 million.

CARES Act case study
One small-business owner who benefited from CARES Act funding is Jayme Sweere, owner of Stressed Out Humans LLC, which focuses on yoga therapy and wellness.

The $5,000 in CARES Act funding Stressed Out Humans received in September 2020 came at a crucial time, according to Sweere.

“I felt like it softened a really tough blow to my business,” she said. “It allowed me to keep going as a small-business owner.”

Sweere had operated the Movement Collective yoga studio in Pickwick Place as the pandemic took hold.

“I had a sense that the pandemic was going to change the yoga and fitness industry for a long time to come, so I knew my storefront wouldn’t make it,” she said.

She used CARES Act funding for closing costs of her brick-and-mortar business, and she purchased AV equipment and paid for the services of an editor.

“Rather than focusing on a short-term, Band-Aid solution to keep my studio open, I decided to close my doors and create something that focuses on a long-term approach for my ideal clients and expanded my market,” she said.

Sweere moved her business completely online and began to focus on in-depth programs for people seeking personalized support in self-care and therapeutic yoga. She also serves businesses with stress-management education via Zoom and outdoor team-building retreats.

“This is a big change from leading all my sessions in my studio or in workplaces, like I did before the pandemic,” she said. “This has gone really well with so many folks seeking support for how to balance a work-from-home lifestyle.”

Sweere’s advice to the ARPA committee: Fund those businesses that demonstrate a clear-eyed look at the changed landscape.

“Look for those that have adapted to the way things are now and need support to keep going,” she said, “especially if they are providing work to other local independent small businesses.”

Sweere said by moving online, she was able to streamline offerings and serve 70% more clients at one time, not only from Springfield but from all over the world.

She added the past two years have been about developing infrastructure, and she projects an increase in revenue by 60% or more in 2022.

ARPA differences
Like CARES funds, ARPA money will support economic recovery, covering business expenses incurred through 2024. The legislation allows the county to use funds to address negative economic impacts and COVID-19 mitigation costs, as well as public health response and COVID-19 mitigation, water and sewer infrastructure, premium pay for essential workers and broadband infrastructure.

The county’s community needs assessment survey for use of ARPA funds identified 12 priorities, and small-business economic assistance was identified as No. 4 by survey respondents, following mental health services, affordable housing and services for unhoused persons.

Foster said the committee would like to get the first phase of funding distributed in late winter or early spring, with the second phase distributed in mid- to late summer. There also will be two phases in 2023.

“We want to make sure that those mom-and-pop and those truly small businesses really have a chance to get assistance,” he said. “They can be truly fragile.”

Nonprofits also are a priority for the committee.

Jennifer Olson, supervisor of the Greene County Center of the Ozarks Area Community Action Corp., represents an organization that benefited from federal CARES Act relief, though OACAC’s $2.6 million in funding came through a separate allocation.

“It was overwhelming and valuable at the same time,” she said.

OACAC was one of six agencies that helped to distribute rental assistance funds provided by the CARES Act. Dixon noted Greene County was cited in The Washington Post as being ahead of the curve with rental assistance distribution, with 90% of the funds already out the door.

“I’m so proud of our team here,” Dixon said. “Our budget director, Jeff Scott, his first thought was let’s not reinvent the wheel; let’s work with community partners who are already doing this work.”

Scott said as of Feb. 7, agencies have paid out $9.1 million of the $11.5 million available. The rental assistance came from two different pieces of legislation, and Scott said Greene County has distributed 96% from the first pool of funding, compared with a national average of 62%.

“We’re doing about one and a half times the national rate and getting the money out,” he said.

Besides OACAC, the other agencies distributing rental assistance are Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri,  The Salvation Army and Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc.

Olson said nonprofit leaders sat down with people one on one to work with landlords and help meet specific needs on the spot.

The needs, however, continue, Olson said.

“We have been seeing rising rental costs considerably throughout our 10-county area, and some of the folks that fell behind in the beginning are still playing catch-up with that,” she said.

One small-business owner, Anne Walls, co-owner of Savoy Ballroom on Commercial Street, can relate. Walls said coronavirus caused not only cancellations of weddings at the event venue, but also tours by those planning weddings.

“The effects have been so long-lasting,” she said. “When restaurants opened up, they had income coming in that day. I needed to start booking tours.”

While the struggle continued in 2021, Walls said 2022 is looking good, in part to personal help from Foster, who owns Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar, across the street from the Savoy.

“Lyle was instrumental in helping. He came to talk to us. He was great,” she said.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Walls added. “City, county, even federal help has been good for us.”

Walls said she was unaware of the availability of ARPA funds, but she is going to look into applying for them.

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