Provided by the Volusia County Division of Economic Development
Volusia County businesses have shown great resilience in the face of COVID-19. With creativity and collaboration, many businesses have added new products, performed new services, repurposed facilities and saved jobs. However, despite the resiliency, many have still experienced a substantial financial hit, with some forced to temporarily close operations and then face the uncertainty of when and how to safely reopen.
Early into the pandemic, the Volusia County Council approved the implementation of the Relaunch Volusia campaign to provide financial assistance grants to local small and home-based businesses. The county is using coronavirus relief funds it has received from the federal government as part of the CARES Act to fund the grants.
“This money is available to qualifying businesses for a one-time reopening grant of $3,000 for businesses with 25 or fewer employees or $5,000 for businesses with 26 to 50 employees,” said Helga van Eckert, director of Volusia County’s Economic Development Division.
“While these funds may not make the business whole, they can provide some relief and help them recover from the negative financial consequences resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said van Eckert.
In May, the County Council allocated $10 million to help small businesses recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Initially, the grant program was designed to help those small businesses in Volusia County with up to 25 full-time employees or full-time equivalents. Proven to be such a success, the program was expanded to include businesses with up to 50 full-time employees or full-time equivalents. Shortly after that, in June, the program was again expanded to include $3 million in relief funds for home-based businesses.
As of July 31, 2020, over $6.5 million has been distributed to brick and mortar businesses.
Cindi Flanagan was one of those recipients. She’s owned and operated the Abundant Health Float and Day Spa in New Smyrna Beach since 2013. She had a thriving business, providing 4,500 to 5,000 services each month. Then, COVID-19 struck, forcing her to shut down for nearly two months.
“We took a big financial hit, “said Flanagan. “We had expenses to pay that would normally be covered with the revenue from our services, and we had our overhead like rent and utility payments. So when I first heard about the county’s grant program, I applied immediately. It was a very easy process. I completed it in about 15 minutes and received the check a few weeks later.”
Hours at the Abundant Health Float and Day Spa have been reduced from seven days a week to five, and a front desk receptionist has been replaced with a virtual assistant. Walk-ins are no longer an option; services are only by appointment. But still, Flanagan says she feels lucky the business is doing 60% of what it was before the pandemic.
“I’ve been on a number of industry conference calls and the expectation was that businesses like mine could see sales return to anywhere between 30 and 80%. I’m lucky we have a good, steady clientele to keep us in that upper range,” said Flanagan.
Rosemarie Niles opened Urban Brick specialty pizza and pasta in DeLand in 2016. Like many new businesses, it took a little time for hers to get established, but by 2019 business was doing very good. Then COVID-19 struck and everything changed.
“We tried to pivot to only doing carryout, but that only lasted for a week because we just weren’t set up for that,” said Niles.
With only one phone line and no online store, Niles needed to shut down in order to make some changes.
“We were closed for a month and during that time we created an online store and made some other changes to be better equipped for only carryout. But just as we were ready to open back up, the state lifted the ban on indoor dining, so that was good.”
Like many dining restaurants, the pandemic hit Urban Brick hard, so when she heard about the county’s grant program she got her paperwork in order and applied. Weeks later, she received her $3,000 check, which she is using to keep paying her employees.
“We are trying our best as a community to support each other through this – by visiting each other’s establishments and just supporting each other,” Niles said. “We just want to rally together to help us make it through this.”
Volusia County Government manages the grant funds, but the application review is a collaborative effort involving all the city economic development practitioners who perform the initial review of applications for their municipality.
Collaboration was also key when it came to distributing thousands of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits to local businesses. In June, the Volusia County Council allocated $1 million in CARES Act recovery funds for PPE kits for local businesses as additional resources in their efforts to reopen safely.
As part of the Relaunch Volusia campaign, the county purchased protective equipment in bulk quantities, including masks, gloves, sanitizer, paper towels and cleaning products. The kits were assembled by the Volusia Chamber Alliance, whose members include the leaders of chambers within the county. The alliance, in conjunction with county staff, assembled 3,500 kits at the county-operated Ocean Center convention center, and then distributed the kits from six locations throughout the county.
“The Volusia Chamber Alliance is always looking at ways for the chambers to work together for the greater good of our members and the community,” said Debbie Cotton, president of the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Volusia Chamber Alliance.
“These are starter kits for businesses so they have what they need to be safely open for business,” said Cotton.
Another 3,500 PPE kits will be available for distribution on August 25, 26 and 27. Visit www.VolusiaBusinessResources.com for complete details including locations.
Small Business and Home-Based Business Reopening Grants are still available for local businesses that have not yet applied. The application is filled out online and, on average, takes about 30 minutes to complete.
For more information and a complete list of qualification criteria, visit www.VolusiaBusinessResources.com.