Tulare County hands out $5.3M in grants to local businesses

1,075 Tulare County businesses receive $5,000 checks to help with rent, utilities and PPE among other costs

VISALIA – With so much uncertainty in the economy as a result of the global pandemic businesses are looking for anything that could help their bottom line. Fortunately for 1,075 local businesses they received a $5,000 grant to help them catch up with rent, utilities and personal protective equipment (PPE) among other pandemic related costs.

By the numbers

Over the course of August and into September Tulare County was hoping to give $7.5 million of their CARES Act money, the national coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress in March, to local businesses in need. The final numbers rolled in last Tuesday at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, and according to Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County executive director Adam Peck they managed to give out $5,375,000 in $5,000 grants 1,075 businesses.

“We think we did pretty well. The first proposal was intended to give 1,000 businesses grants. The board of supervisors ended up passing some authority to the [County Administrative Officer] to give up to $7.5 million in case there are more applications than anticipated. So, we ended up pretty spot on,” Peck said.

The WIB was tasked with administering the grants in partnership with the County Administrative Office starting in August. On the outset of the grant program supervisors hoped to equally distribute the grant dollars to 500 different businesses in each of the five districts. Unfortunately, business activity is not equally distributed all over the county. Instead, 242 businesses received grants in District 1 – represented by Kuyler Crocker, 161 grants were distributed in District 2 – represented by board chairman Pete Vander Poel, 421 were distributed in District 3 – represented by Amy Shuklian, 149 grants were distributed in District 4 – represented by Eddie Valero and 102 grants were distributed in District 5 – represented by Dennis Townsend.

According to Peck’s presentation on Sept. 29 Visalia businesses received the lion’s share of grants reaching almost 600. Tulare businesses received approximately 150 grants; Porterville received less than 100; Dinuba and Exeter received approximately 50; Woodlake, Farmersville and Orosi all received less than 50 grants.

However, Peck noted to the board that business penetration was highest in Lindsay at more than 18%. Woodlake was in second at approximately 17% and Visalia and Exeter practically tied for third at just over 16%.

Business in need

Peck said that most checks had already been cut as of last Tuesday with the last few checks going out at the end of last week. And as far as he could tell businesses were happy to get the help.

Ylda Palomino, owner of Palomino’s Music and NFL Shop at 218 N. Floral near downtown Visalia said she needed the $5,000 to help her buy personal protection equipment for her store, catch up on utilities and pay rent. She is the only retail store in her immediate vicinity and suffered from the shutdown that started in March. After 10 weeks she reopened, but was only able to stay open for two weeks before shutting down again.

“It was really discouraging and heartbreaking because we had the customers calling asking when we were going to open,” Palomino said.

When she was told to close her doors in March her and her daughter were fortunate to have a small nest egg saved up. Unfortunately, she had just put in her professional sports apparel order for the upcoming season. When the pandemic dragged on for weeks she not only had to make her vendors whole, but utility bills started stacking up. At one point she had to let go of her two part time employees. While she feels bad for letting them go she sympathizes with other business owners who laid off their staff in droves.

“We felt bad because the rest of downtown, you know, they had to let go of even more employees…it was sad,” Palomino said.

She said that she hopes to hire them back in the future if she can.

Peck said in previous interviews with The Sun-Gazette that the grant application process was created to give out money quickly and efficiently. And that is one of the reasons Palomino decided to apply. For the months after shutting down she said that grant and loan applications were intimidating and asked for unique information that she did not have. Meanwhile the grant application offered by the WIB was quick and easy.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything simpler,” Palomino said.

Peck said as well that this program gave the WIB an opportunity to work with small businesses like Palomino’s. Normally the WIB works with larger employers, but a program like this has connected businesses of all sizes with the resources WIB has to offer.

“The work the WIB does…is either focused on workers or with industries writ large,” Peck said. “We really haven’t been as good of a resource for the really small businessperson who has some attributes for the industry stuff and the worker.”

Industries reached

In terms of the kind of industries reached with the grant disbursements, Peck said the largest sector of businesses were salons, aestheticians, auto repair shops and detailing. Collectively Peck categorized them as “other services,” and they made up 410 of the 1,075 grants distributed.

The next highest category were 155 professional and business service companies like plumbers, photographers, lawn care specialist and others. Not far behind were 128 leisure and hospitality businesses. 118 were educational and health services like day cares and doctor offices. 114 were retail, and 32 were agriculture related businesses.

Other industries that received 31 grants or less were transportation and warehousing; construction; wholesale trade and manufacturing. Not included in Peck’s list were churches and nonprofits.

“Great job, great program and I really do think this had a very positive impact in Tulare County,” Vander Poel said.

Because the board intended to spend the full $7.5 million they are still hoping to find ways to spend the remaining $2,125,000 remaining on the table. Peck said the WIB and the CAO’s office is still looking to find ways to distribute the funds left over but have not settled on a plan yet.

“We are going to continue to provide input as we work with the cities and chambers as far what the needs with the businesses are,” Peck said.

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