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De Pere donating $50,000 to chamber for business relief grant fund

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

DE PERE – The common council voted Tuesday, May 19, to authorize a $50,000 business relief grant fund be donated to the De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce to help small businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolution calls for funds for the donation to be drawn from the city’s designated revolving loan fund established upon the closure of the community block grant-funded revolving loan fund program.

The council’s action comes a month after it voted to provide up to a $50,000 match to Definitely De Pere’s fundraising effort to help businesses in the city’s downtown area.

The donation to the chamber would also offer eligible businesses a grant of up to $2,500, similar to the program that Definitely De Pere has been raising funds for, but those eligible applicants wouldn’t be limited to within De Pere’s Main Street District.

De Pere Development Services Director Daniel Lindstrom said the grant program through the chamber would be run with Definitely De Pere involved in a similar program.

Lindstrom said Definitely De Pere “pretty much hit a ceiling of fundraising at $25,000,” thereby resulting in the city providing a $25,000 match for a total grant pool of $50,000.

In response to the council previously asking about how Definitely De Pere and the chamber could work together in providing small business grants, Lindstrom said the two organizations have different goals and may not be able to craft a single program, but they would be able to share resources and information.

“They have worked to share their fundraising target lists, so area businesses aren’t being double-targeted from both organizations,” he said.

To help as many small businesses in De Pere as possible, Lindstrom said the chamber’s grant program could include small businesses in the downtown area, provided a combination of grants for a business through the chamber and Definitely De Pere wouldn’t exceed $2,500.

“The two programs continue to work together to continually review grant applications, share information with each other, making sure that awards remain below that threshold,” he said.

Lindstrom said the two organizations will also share the names of grant applicants with city staff to help maintain and grow the list of De Pere small businesses.

Because the grant program through Definitely De Pere will total $50,000 with the city’s matching funds, he said the program through the chamber will also total $50,000 with the council donating that amount, so both programs have the same funds available and Definitely De Pere wouldn’t be making a subsequent funding request.

Aside from Definitely De Pere targeting the downtown area and the chamber offering grant funding throughout the city, the two grants have similar eligibility requirements.

For example, businesses must have been deemed nonessential by the state’s Safer at Home order and able to show they were negatively affected by the pandemic.

In addition, eligible businesses must be locally owned and established prior to March 9.

The program through the chamber will offer grants for De Pere businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees.

Grant funds could be used for working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments and utility expenses, or other expenses that occur in the ordinary course of operations.

Those funds could not be used to reimburse expenses incurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, pay off non-business or personal debt or for construction and/or physical property improvements.

Amber Thiel, De Pere Area Chamber of Commerce president, said grants through the chamber would be based on scoring applications, including factors as such as the number of employees and the industry of a business.

“We would probably review how much funding they got from Definitely De Pere, if any, so they’ll be a couple different questions within the application process that we would then look over,” she said. “Our executive committee would be making those decisions, so we would likely base it off the final score.”

Information the chamber provided to the city said the application deadline is May 28 with the applications submitted to the chamber.

Alderman Dean Raasch, who last month called for a citywide grant program, said he hopes Definitely De Pere and the chamber will work together to make the most of the available grant money geared toward smaller businesses with smaller numbers of employees to have the greatest impact.

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