by Cathy O’Connor, President of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.
As our community responded to COVID-19 and began practicing social distancing and adhering to health guidelines from local, state and federal agencies, it was clear this crisis would reduce, or even eliminate, revenue for many businesses. As early as mid-March, some of our smallest businesses were feeling the most impact, struggling to meet payroll and basic business expenses. Fortunately for businesses located here, when there’s a crisis, Oklahoma City jumps into action.
The Alliance for Economic Development for Oklahoma City worked with our partners to quickly develop two unique programs to help small businesses. The first, called the Oklahoma City Small Business Continuity Program, launched on April 6 and applications were accepted until April 17. The program is providing cash incentives, no interest forgivable loans, low interest loans and technical assistance to small businesses in Oklahoma City with less than 50 employees. A joint effort by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City and the City of Oklahoma City, the program is putting funding into the hands of small business owners to help them retain employees during economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Small Business Continuity Program received applications from more than 600 businesses and as expected, requests far exceeded the $5.5 million available in the program. Cash payments and loan disbursements began in early May. The Oklahoma City Council voted to create the program, which is funded by the Economic and Community Development element of the Better Streets, Safer City bond package.
The second program is called the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority Small Business Grant Program. It provides grants up to $10,000 for businesses with five or fewer employees located within designated Urban Renewal Areas. Grants may be used for future payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities, business equipment, inventory and other necessary business expenses.
The Oklahoma City Council approved the $400,000 program, funded with federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds administered by the City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. The program will provide funds for COVID-19 disaster relief to small businesses located in low- or moderate-income areas. The first review period will begin May 25 and applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis for as long as funds remain available. Help us spread the word. Find a map of Urban Renewal Areas, see other qualifications and download the application at www.ocura-ok.org
These two programs are important to our economy and will help businesses meet payroll and get back on a path to stability. Small businesses comprise the vast majority of businesses in Oklahoma City and they employ about half of the workers. As a state and a city, we consistently rank as a top location for small businesses due to our business-friendly climate, easy access to resources and low cost of doing business.
Our support in times of crisis is another factor that keeps our business community healthy. Many cities have not been able to offer businesses any financial support beyond what is available on a state or federal level. Because our voters passed the Better Streets, Safer City bond package in 2017 as well as other economic development tools, our city is in a better position to provide emergency support for businesses to help them weather the turbulence caused by the pandemic. As a result, Oklahoma City will distinguish itself by emerging from this crisis stronger and more resilient than ever.