A program to provide city assistance for small, locally owned businesses was approved by the Gardner City Council at their March 20 meeting.
“The small business incentive program would give a startup or local business wishing to expand an opportunity to receive financial assistance to address issues related to public access or with the movement, relocation or installation of city utilities.,” said Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator. “The goal is to reduce the cost of these activities through a cost-sharing function where the city would match the funds of the business’ investment, helping small businesses to grow, expand their services and remain competitive. Each business would be required to apply for these funds, which would not exceed $25,000. The funds would be offered in the form of a reimbursable expense and would be available on a one-time basis. “
The small business incentive program would be limited to one application per business and capped at $25,000 per use. Only new or local businesses that are not part of a corporately operated franchise could apply.
“This is a great tool designed by the city to assist our small local business community,” said Greg Martinette, president, Southwest Johnson County EDC. “It shows that city leadership is listening and finding creative methods to help local business owners knock down potential roadblocks to their success.”
Martinette said he expected the EDC would be more involved during the program’s “fine tuning.”
“The requirements will be very specific and distributions made very quickly,” Martinette continued. “Our hope is to continue to assist them through our Business Retention and Expansion Program as they continue to grow and encounter future hurdles.”
The program would be focused on solving issues that require improvement to private property needing either public roads or utility access to allow the business to open or expand facilities.
“Honestly we weren’t -heavily involved in the discussion, but had been involved with some of the lead up when they (city) realized there were some issues,” said Jason Camis, president, Gardner Edgerton Chamber. “We’ve had a couple examples of late where businesses that were locally owned and wanted to expand had to make infrastructure improvements that were more public issues than private, but because of the past or specific nature fell on the shoulders of the local business owners. And they weren’t big enough projects to use things like TIFs, etc.”
Camis said he hopes the city council will review the program on an ongoing basis to see what the value of local investment coincides with it.
Funding would be budgeted for $100,000 annually, originally from the city’s general fund, but eventually funds would come from the transient tax fund.
Application process and approval of the funds would be consolidated in the business and economic development department. Businesses utilizing the fund would be reimbursed after the qualifying project is completed.
The program will definitely help the business community, Martinette said. “We always seem handcuffed when it comes to helping the local, small business person.  We have tools for the big companies but not necessarily for small ones that just need a nudge.”