County redevelopment sometimes spells doom for local small businesses who cannot financially handle the disruptions that often come with construction projects: redirected traffic patterns or traffic congestion, loss of parking, lack of visibility to passing customers, hampered pedestrian access, and more. If these businesses are to survive, they need some help.
That’s the thinking behind the small business assistance bill that passed the Montgomery County Council Tuesday morning with a unanimous vote. The businesses, if they are located in an enterprise zone or an urban renewal area, can receive grants from a fund managed by the Department of Economic Development up to a year before construction starts.
"It's not going to be a panacea," said Council Vice President Nancy Navarro, the bill's lead sponsor. "This is one element in a comprehensive approach to Wheaton redevelopment."
The county's criteria for "local small business" specifies no more than 30 employees and less than an average of $5 million per year in gross sales from the last three years.
Wheaton is one of three designated enterprise zones in Montgomery County, along with Long Branch/Takoma Park and Old Towne Gaithersburg. Businesses in these zones, and in the Silver Spring Central Business District urban renewal area, can apply for grants up to 12 months before construction is scheduled to begin.
Applying for assistance before the adverse effects are felt--this is one of the key differences between the Economic Development Fund and the county's existing Impact Assistance Program.
At a Feb. 28 public hearing, eight Wheaton small business owners testified (and one submitted written testimony) in favor of the bill. No one offered testimony opposing the bill. The Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee also weighed in with a letter giving its unanimous support.
The ball is in the Department of Economic Development's court to create specific regulations for this new fund, although the council must give final approval for grants larger than $100,000. However, DED has said that it does not have the necessary staff to run the program, and Navarro says this is one of the issues to be worked out going forward.
The goal of these regulations would be to make sure the money goes to the right businesses--not to those who are failing even before redevelopment comes along.
What do you think about this county fund to help small businesses that anticipate the strain of redevelopment? Tell us in the comments.