The mission of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce is to be the representative voice of county for-profit and non-profit businesses in working to improve the county economy and to address pressing county socioeconomic issues.
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5/13: Gov. Walz opens retail, outdoor activities, others

 

In addition to allowing retail establishments to reopen, Gov. Tim Walz' Executive Order 20-56, issued today, allows a great many other places also to return to operation. One important category is "dispersed and remote" campsites and a host of other outdoor sites listed in section 8 of the order, toward the bottom. These would appear to be especially important to Cook County and its summer season. The text of the order can be found here: 

https://mn.gov/governor/assets/EO%2020-56%20Final_tcm1055-431921.pdf

5/9: Free, volunteer made face masks for employees

Cook County business owners and managers: Could you use free cloth masks for your employees, courtesy of terrific County volunteers?

Lori Erickson, who serves as logistics officer for the Cook County Emergency Operations Center, sends this message:

The outpouring of donations from the community has been incredible. The EOC has received over 1500 cloth face coverings for the medical and essential workers.

I’d like to keep up the momentum and ask that donors continue to create these items. If more donations are received than needed for the medical community, would the local business like the surplus cloth face coverings for their employees?

If so, how many do you think would be needed? Mind you, these cloth face coverings would be just for the employees and not for customers.

*****
Thank you, Lori !!

If you would like to request volunteer-made face masks for your employees, please send an email to eocfacemasks@gmail.com. Please include your email address, a telephone number and the number of masks you need. Please estimate conservatively so the masks can get to as many employers as possible.

 

5/8/2020: Small Business Relief Fund Announces Second Round of Funding

Duluth, Minnesota – {Friday, May 8, 2020}: The Entrepreneur Fund, Northland Foundation, and The Northspan Group, Inc. are pleased to announce they will be accepting grant applications for a second round of funding from the Small Business Relief Fund. Thanks to generous support from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

“We thank IRRR for its support and are excited to roll out this second round of funding,” said Shawn Wellnitz, Entrepreneur Fund CEO. “Enbridge’s support is also vital. These generous contributions will allow us to support many more businesses as they work through this crisis.” Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR), this second round will enable the three partners to support businesses across IRRR’s Taconite Assistance Area (TAA). Additional support from Enbridge Energy for the original round will help more business owners facing significant financial challenges resulting from the pandemic.

The second round will open for applications on Tuesday, May 12 at 800AM and close the SAME DAY, Tuesday, May 12 at 800PM. This second round uses a simplified application form to lessen burdens on business owners.

The grant guidelines are available now for review and preparation, here

The Entrepreneur Fund launched the Small Business Relief Fund in March 2020 with an open call to individual donors to seed the fund. An initial round, funded by the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund, Minnesota Power, Enbridge, North Shore Bank of Commerce, and several private donors, closed on April 23. The first round provided $45,000 in funding to 12 businesses across all seven counties of northeast Minnesota outside of Duluth and an additional $23,000 to seven businesses in Duluth, Cass County, Crow Wing County, and Douglas County, Wisconsin. Businesses who applied to the first round but did not receive funding must apply again using the new application form if eligible.

“When we confront challenges like the coronavirus, one of the most valuable things we can do is provide peace of mind for business owners,” said Tony Sertich, the President of the Northland Foundation. “We’re encouraged to see so many of our partners collaborating to find real solutions to support our local economies.”

The Small Business Relief Fund will provide direct grants up to $5,000 to small business owners in the TAA. The review committee will prioritize grants to:

  • Be an existing small business, less than 5 FTEs.
  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Federal Government Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and State Government Small Business Emergency Loan programs do not fit.
  • Businesses located within the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Taconite Assistance Area.
  • Business affected by the disaster (all businesses; not only those included in the State of MN executive order).

Priority will be given to those businesses that serve as a core community staple such as rural/community grocery stores, restaurants, downtown/main street retail or hospitality, etc.


Fund review committee determination that the available grants will make a discernible impact on the sustainability of the business.


As business needs are identified, these grants could be paired with other resources, such as consulting guidance to manage the effects of the pandemic, as well as financial resources that may include flexible working capital loans from the Entrepreneur Fund and other local, state, and federal resources that become available.

“This support will support businesses who have slipped through the cracks of existing programs and need more help,” said Elissa Hansen, the President & CEO of Northspan. “We’re proud to work together with our partners to piece together solutions for businesses facing all types of situations.”

For more information, click here 

###

About The Entrepreneur Fund

The Entrepreneur Fund is the resource for entrepreneurs in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. The Entrepreneur Fund has fueled more than 14,000 businesses with expert support and funded over $48 million in loans since 1989. The Entrepreneur Fund is dedicated to strengthening entrepreneurship in the region, while also supporting and increasing economic development. Through this strategic approach, the Entrepreneur Fund promotes the entrepreneurial spirit and helps create economic wealth and diversity in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. For more information, visit https://www.entrepreneurfund.org/.

About the Northland Foundation

The Northland Foundation is a publicly supported foundation serving seven northeastern Minnesota counties: Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis, and all or parts of five Tribal Nations within the same geographic boundaries: Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Through grantmaking, an operating program, business lending, and special initiatives, we help people and communities in our region to move forward together. For more information, visit https://northlandfdn.org/.

About The Northspan Group, Inc.

The Northspan Group, Inc. is a Duluth-based private non-profit development organization that has provided professional business, community, and organizational development consulting services since 1985. Northspan specializes in creative thinking, enterprising strategies, and systematic approaches to help businesses, communities, regions, and organizations prosper in a global economy. Our professional staff work cooperatively with economic and community development partners to leverage resources for measurable, sustainable results. For more information, visit https://www.northspan.org/.

 

5/1: Could you use face shields in your business?

Bob Pranis, who owns both a 3D printer and a big heart, has been very busy making face shields for first responders and health professionals. Now they have enough, and Bob is offering to make them for business folk who come face-to-face with customers. They would offer one additional level of safety, on top of masks and other protective measure. 

While he is offering them for free, the materials in each one cost $3, and I have it on good authority that he would very much appreciate donations to help cover his costs.

I have attached photos of the shields. Please note that you would need to craft your own elastic or other bands to hold them in place. Bob reports that he has had success with large rubber bands, elastic and other materials. 

If you would like to order shields, please email me at ccchamber@boreal.org and tell me how many.

If you would like to make donations to Bob, please send me a check made out to the chamber, and I will ensure Bob gets the money. You can send them to CC Chamber, P.O. Box 805, Grand Marais 55604

  

 

 

4/27: Results of COVID-19 Business Impact Survey

 

Two weeks ago, we asked Cook County businesses to take a survey on the impact they were feeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey was a snapshot of how businesses were coping when the survey was taken. The situation for many will have changed. Still, we thought you might enjoy seeing what business owners and managers said.

We got an excellent 184 responses, indicating the survey was taken by a large percentage of Cook County businesses.

Some of the answers have been stripped out of the pdf; several were open-ended questions seeking a narrative response, and those made the respondents fairly easy to identify, so we eliminated those in keeping with our pledge of anonymity.

Also, some of the calculations made by Survey Monkey make no sense. In several questions, for example, the answer is a percentage, but then Survey Monkey calculates a "total number" by multiplying the percentages by the number of respondents, yielding an answer in the thousands. Please ignore those.

This link will take you to the survey results, housed on Google Drive:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/10JS0vKJwp5iJ5gXlntwuX_w3VQjF8gPc/view?usp=sharing

 

4/21: Relief grants for Cook County Artists

Mary Somnis of the Cook County-Grand Marais EDA announces a special relief fund for Cook County artists. Grants of $1,200 are available from this fund to pay personal or artistic expenses. More about the multiple partners in this fund and an application form are available here: http://aracouncil.org/cook-county-arts-relief-fund/

The Cook County Chamber is a member of the Creative Economy Collaborative. Please note that applications for this special relief fund are due by April 27.

 

4/9: Update from morning briefing by state agencies

 

From the 7 a.m. conference call this morning with state agencies, the following points stood out:

 

1. The Small Business Administration's Emergency Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) includes a quick payment of up to $10,000 to tide you over until the EIDL loan itself arrives. The Minneapolis SBA office reported that those advances have (finally) begun to be disbursed. However, the SBA also reported that very small businesses, such as sole proprietors, will receive as little as $1,000 in these advance payments, which is extremely disappointing.

 

2. The SBA also reported progress in making operational its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which include a forgiveness program if employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks. The start date for those eight weeks was clarified: It begins with the first disbursement of loan funds from your lender. A reminder: The PPP works through local lenders and not through the SBA. Local SBA lenders are: Grand Marais State Bank, Security State Bank and the Entrepreneur Fund in Duluth. 

 

Another reminder: The local expert on all things SBA is Pat Campanaro, Small Business Development Center counselor. You can reach Pat at pcampanaro@gmail.com

 

3. Steve Grove, commissioner at the Department of Employment and Economic Development, reports that Minnesota was the first or one of the first states to set up its unemployment compensation system to include those federal $600/week "top up" payments which will run for 16 weeks. Grove reported that DEED has processed more than 200,000 UI claims so they include this $600 weekly payments, and UI recipients should begin receiving those additional payments soon. 

 

4. On Tuesday, the Legislature met and passed amendments to its workers compensation law so that people on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 (health-care workers, EMTs, fire fighters, police officers, etc.) will be PRESUMED to have contracted COVID-19 through their jobs if they do become infected. This will make them all eligible for workers compensation. This is very good news for some folks who are working hard to serve us all. 

4/1: Summary of morning small-business teleconference with state agencies:

Here are updates from this morning’s COVID-19 business teleconference with state government:

 

1.       State officials recognize that it is difficult to keep up with all the programs (and program changes) that have been thrown at you over the past two weeks. So the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which is the lead state agency in responding to the economic impact of COVID-19, has provided a summary guide to all the state and federal programs available. You can find that summary here: https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/press-releases/?id=425890

 

2.       PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM: THIS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL. A spokesperson from the Minnesota district office of the federal Small Business Administration reported that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is not yet available. They hope to have it up and running by the end of the week.  You apply for loans from SBA lenders, not directly to the SBA itself (they are in the process of expanding the list of lenders; I know Grand Marais State Bank is working to qualify). This program is available to all small businesses, including self-employed, gig workers and independent contractors. And if you keep employees on for eight weeks, the entire loan is forgiven.

Here is what DEED says about this program: “If a self-employed person needs compensation or a business or nonprofit needs funds for employee compensation, including: salaries, wages, commissions, or similar compensation; cash tips or equivalents; vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave; payment required for providing group health care benefits (including insurance premiums); payment of retirement benefits; and payroll taxes. Funding may also be used for payment of interest on mortgage obligations, rent, utilities, and interest on pre-existing debt obligations.”

Non-critical sector employers, independent contractors, self-employed: Please note that if you are a non-critical sector employer and you have laid off most of  your employees, it appears possible that you can qualify for a PPP loan to pay yourself and pay your business expenses and then have the loan forgiven. How all this will work still is not known. You should definitely pay close attention to when the PPP comes on line and what the regulations specify.

Also, on a different topic, the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) reported they are getting calls from workers in non-critical sectors who are being required to show up for work. The DLI rep. made very clear it is ILLEGAL to require workers to return to work if the business is not defined as “critical.” Calls on this will be referred to local law enforcement, and the prohibition WILL be enforced.

DEED is the keeper of the list of “critical” sectors, which is constantly being updated. You can find that list here: https://mn.gov/deed/assets/critical-worker-definitions-ACC_tcm1045-425195.pdf

Critical-sector employers: I know that this program appears to conflict with the very generous unemployment insurance benefits available now. During the call, I asked if it was legal under the PPP program for critical-sector employers to increase their pay to make work at least as attractive as unemployment benefits. The answer I got was that the regulations governing this program have not yet been released.

It seems to me that every employer in the critical sector should consider taking out a forgivable PPP loan and should discuss with their lenders whether they can boost the wages of those who must continue to work so that they at least are equal to unemployment benefits. For the next 16 weeks, those UI benefits will include an additional $600 federal stipend.

3. SBA Emergency Injury Disaster Loan Program: State officials feel so strongly supportive of this program that they say EVERY Minnesota small business should be applying for these loans, and especially for the immediate $10,000 payment to help tide you over. Here is what DEED says:

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) – all Minnesota small businesses should apply for these!

Summary of Program: Low interest, long term Economic Injury Disaster Loans for up to $2 million: The first payment is deferred for 12 months. The application has been simplified and can be completed 100% online through our improved web portal at www.sba.gov/disaster. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75% and the loans can be extended over 30 years. 
 

Why this might make sense for you: The SBA EIDL can be used to maintain payroll, provide paid sick leave, meet increased costs, make rent or mortgage payments, as well as repay unmet expenses and obligations.
 

SBA EIDL Grants - Businesses applying for an EIDL loan can request up to $10,000 be disbursed immediately. The amount need not be repaid, regardless of the loan decision. Businesses applying for an EIDL loan can request up to $10,000 be disbursed immediately. The amount need not be repaid, regardless of the loan decision. The form to apply for an advance is part of the new EIDL application. If you have already applied for an EIDL Loan and wish to apply for the advance, please fill out the new, streamlined application, which is available here: https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/

Why this might make sense to you: This advance may be available even if your EIDL application was declined or is still pending, and will be forgiven.


 

3/31: Cook County suspends payments, interest accrual on revolving loan fund accounts

 

The Cook County Board unanimously has approved a request from the Cook County Revolving Loan Fund Committee to suspend for six months payments on all loans and halt the accrual of interest on all loans because of the economic impact on business of the COVID-19 shutdown.

As County Auditor Braidy Powers explained, the action freezes principal and interest and pushes back by six months the due date on every loan, including loans that are delinquent or otherwise non-current. Further, County Board Member Robert Deschampe stressed that there may be a need to revisit the question at the end of six months and extend the suspension of payments. Other board members were quick to agree with Deschampe.

Hal Greenwood, chair and long-time member of the revolving loan fund committee, expressed delight at the action. "Many thanks should go out to the County Board and the revolving loan fund committee for supporting this bold action," Greenwood said.

With about $15,000 in payments due each month, the suspension should delay payments of roughly $90,000 over the six month period, plus the savings from non-accrual of interest, he said.

The County Board resolution said:

WHEREAS, on March 13, 2020, the Governor of the State of Minnesota declared a peacetime emergency related to the transmission of the novel coronavirus and its resulting illness, COVID19; and on March 17, 2020, the Cook County Board of Commissioners declared Cook County ina state of emergency for conditions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak;

WHEREAS, the actions taken to stem the COVID-19 outbreak will have a profound economic impact on small local businesses;

WHEREAS, a quorum of the Cook County Revolving Loan Fund Committee met on March 24,2020 to consider actions to aid small local businesses struggling with the COVID-19 outbreak economic impact and unanimously approved a recommendation to the Cook County Board to offer a six month deferral of loan payments to recipients of the Cook County Revolving Loan Fund;

WHEREAS, the Cook County Board of Commissioners also recognizes the profound economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and wishes to provide aid to small local businesses:


NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Cook County Board of Commissioners approves offering a six-month deferral of loan payments to Cook County Revolving Loan Fund recipients.

 

3/29: Special unemployment compensation for independent contractors, self-employed, gig workers:

One of the big gaps in unemployment compensation involves independent contractors and the self-employed, most of whom do not pay into the unemployment compensation system and are thus ineligible for normal unemployment benefits. A lot of people fall into those categories, and right now almost all of them have no or very little income.

 

Now Congress has addressed that issue by including special unemployment benefits for these self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers in the just-passed CARES Act. The new benefits are called Emergency Unemployment Assistance. Apparently the benefit is half the usual state UI benefit, plus the additional $600 weekly for 16 weeks benefit that Congress added. I do not know a lot about it, yet, but here is an article that gives some background:

 

https://bit.ly/2UHDvCt

 

I cannot find anything on the U.S. Department of Labor website or the state DEED website. I will keep looking. It is early days.

 

Jim

 

3/28: Questions about family leave, unemployment compensation:

A question arose about whether a  worker at a high risk to COVID-19, laid off for her own protection, is eligible for the extended family leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Perhaps others might benefit from my response:

  My reading says that the family leave provision in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies ONLY to people who must remain at home to care for a child whose school has closed or other child care has disappeared.

However, the good news is that the CARES Act that Congress passed yesterday and the president immediately signed provides some significant improvements on unemployment insurance that should help anyone who is laid off.

 

The CARES Act:

Extends unemployment compensation from the traditional 26 weeks to 39 weeks.

Provides an additional $600 weekly for up to 16 weeks to the unemployment compensation payments that come from the state, which are 50 percent of wages. So it is possible many laid off employees may actually receive more in unemployment compensation for 16 weeks than they earned while working. This is an intended feature of the bill. Congress expects this extra money will be spent and help keep businesses going.

Provides cash payments of $1,200 to each person earning less than $75,000 per year and $2,400 to each couple earning less than $150,000 per year. 

In addition, the state already had waived the "waiting week" so that laid off employees can qualify for immediate payment of unemployment compensation.

 

None of this will affect employer experience rating on unemployment compensation, so it will have no adverse effect on your UI tax rate.

 

Here is the Unemployment Insurance page on the DEED website:

A question arose about whether a  worker at a high risk to COVID-19, laid off for her own protection, is eligible for the extended family leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Perhaps others might benefit from my response:

  My reading says that the family leave provision in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies ONLY to people who must remain at home to care for a child whose school has closed or other child care has disappeared.

However, the good news is that the CARES Act that Congress passed yesterday and the president immediately signed provides some significant improvements on unemployment insurance that should help anyone who is laid off.

 

The CARES Act:

Extends unemployment compensation from the traditional 26 weeks to 39 weeks.

Provides an additional $600 weekly for up to 16 weeks to the unemployment compensation payments that come from the state, which are 50 percent of wages. So it is possible many laid off employees may actually receive more in unemployment compensation for 16 weeks than they earned while working. This is an intended feature of the bill. Congress expects this extra money will be spent and help keep businesses going.

Provides cash payments of $1,200 to each person earning less than $75,000 per year and $2,400 to each couple earning less than $150,000 per year. 

In addition, the state already had waived the "waiting week" so that laid off employees can qualify for immediate payment of unemployment compensation.

None of this will affect employer experience rating on unemployment compensation, so it will have no adverse effect on your UI tax rate.

 Here is the Unemployment Insurance page on the DEED website:

https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/covid-19.jsp


3/26: Minnesota Legislature acts on emergency legislation

 The Legislature is in session today to pass emergency legislation responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The big bill, HF 4531, contains these central provisions:

1. Creates a $30 million emergency child care grant program that would be administered by the non-profit Child Care Aware. It would provide grants of $4,500 per month to child care providers, with an additional $1,000 for providing care in special circumstances. Providers licensed for more than 15 children could get an additional monthly grant of up to $15,500. Programs receiving these grants must give a priority to care for the children of essential workers.

2. Appropriates $6.2 million in special assistance for veterans who  are suffering financial or health difficulties related to COVID-19.

3. Provides $9 million for food shelves and regional food banks.

4. Appropriates about $40 million in several categories to provide housing and other services to homeless Minnesotans.

5. Creates a $200 million Minnesota COVID Response Fund to be distributed to state agencies as needed to finance their response to the COVID-19 emergency. The fund will be overseen by the COVID Response Commission. 

6. Appropriates $1 million each to 11 tribal governments, including Grand Portage. 

7. Provides $30 million for the DEED Small Business Emergency Loans we've been discussing all week. These are intended as bridge loans to tide businesses over until they qualify for larger loans with a longer repayment from the federal Small Business Administration.

8. Postpones the deadlines for many business licenses administered by the Department of Commerce.

9. Enables various liberalizations already reported to the federal/state Unemployment Compensation program.

There are assorted other provisions related to non-business items, such as extending the deadline for renewing expiring drivers licenses, etc.

More information will be forthcoming on this legislation from news organizations and the state. This gives you a bare bones overview.


3/26: County revises travel advisory

County has put out a new statement on travel in light of Gov. Walz' stay-at-home order, requests self-quarantine for people coming into the county:

Cook County Updates Travel Advisory due to Stay at Home Order

March 26, 2020- Cook County is revising its travel advisory in light of Executive Order 20-20 signed by MN Governor Tim Walz on Wednesday.

Walz's executive order directs Minnesotans to stay at home and limit movements outside of their homes beyond essential needs. It takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 27 and ends at 5:00 p.m. Friday, April 10.

The county realizes that residents may be traveling home from vacation or other out-of-town trips, not just to/from a seasonal home. Per Governor Walz's order, the county requests that anyone traveling from out of town self-quarantine for the recommended period of 14 days and monitor individual health per the Department of Health's guidelines.

"We understand that the stay at home order requires a change in our day-to-day activities," said Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers. "As Governor Walz stated yesterday, the state's goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 to make key preparations for the pandemic. If we each do our part, we can play a key role in protecting Cook County."

Rogers continued, "We recognize the impact of these uncertain times, and we encourage anyone needing assistance to reach out for help. Information on resources is available on the county's website, www.co.cook.mn.us, or via the county's questions line, 218-387-3668."

If an individual has questions about self-quarantining or other health issues, they are asked to call Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 218-387-2330 and speak with the quarantine nurse.

-30-

Contact: Rena Rogers, 218-387-3687 or rena.rogers@co.cook.mn.us


3/26: Report from DEED daily teleconference

On their daily teleconference this morning, leaders from various state agencies involved in business and economic development offered these bits of guidance on various topics:

 

Critical sectors/critical workers:

 A good deal of time was spent on questions about what constitutes critical sectors and critical workers who will be exempted from Gov. Walz' two-week stay-at-home executive order issued yesterday.

First, an important point about enforcement: This executive order will mostly rely on voluntary compliance. There will be no documents or credentials sent out to qualifying critical sectors or workers and no enforcement police making the rounds to ensure only critical businesses are working.

To determine whether your business or your job fall into that "critical" category, the best source is the web page https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/covid/business-exemptions/

If you go to that page, you will find guidance on "Eligibility for Critical Sector Work Exemption." This lays out three resources to determine criticality:

First consult federal list of critical sectors at https://bit.ly/3dxMuP2

Second, consult Gov. Walz' executive order at:

https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-20.pdf

Third, check your four-digit NAICS code. If your industry is marked YES in the critical industry column, you can continue to operate:

 https://mn.gov/deed/assets/naics-critical-list_tcm1045-424829.pdf

DEED officials also made the point that if employees CAN work from home, they must, whether their industry sector is listed as critical or not.

From Friday forward, all DEED employment centers will be closed, and services will only be offered online. 

Property tax payments: At the request of a Cook County employer, I submitted a written question on whether the state was considering any relief to businesses from their first-half property tax payments due May 15. Obviously, local government desperately need the revenue. But perhaps some of the federal assistance flowing to the state could be used to help out here, given that many businesses now have no income? That was my question.

 Although several state commissioners have publicly worried about finding a way to help with this in previous teleconferences, the response from the Department of Revenue this morning was unhelpful: This is a county issue, full stop.  

In answer to another question, the Department of Revenue also said it has not postponed the April 15 deadline for required estimated tax payments.

It would thus appear that the best hope for relief on these issues is indirect: As Congress passes its gigantic relief bill and funds start flowing to the states and small businesses, and as businesses receive SBA disaster loans and such, these may provide the liquidity businesses need to keep current on their property-tax payments. It is certainly the case that local governments will need every penny of that revenue to sustain essential services. 

 

That is all from this morning's briefing.


3/25: Summary of provisions in third coronavirus relief bill now in U.S. Senate, provided by Senator Tina Smith. The Chamber offers this for the valuable information it contains. It does not endorse the partisan messages wrapped around that information:

 

 

3/25: Shared Work, an alternative to layoffs

Shared Work is an unemployment insurance program that helps keep more people employed and boosts their pay. Say you have two employees but work for only one. If you share that work between the two employees, keeping both on part-time, rather than laying one off, the federal/state unemployment insurance system will make up some of the pay both lose. Information on the program is available here:


https://www.uimn.org/employers/alternative-layoff/index.jsp

Dennis Rysdahl of Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts in Tofte has succeeded in qualifying for the program. He offers this explanation for those considering this:

· Shared Work is intended to encourage employers to retain employees on a part-time basis as an alternative to complete lay-offs

· It makes up part of the difference between an employee’s earnings before and after the work slowdown; we believe between 50% and 60% of that difference though that is not yet entirely clear to us

· We will use this program for all of our higher-compensated leadership people who cannot sustain themselves and their families on the $740 per week maximum UI benefit; and for essential and highly-valued hourly staff to the extent we can afford to keep them partially employed

· Here are two scenarios to demonstrate how we believe it works:

o A manager gets $60,000 per year. As of Monday all of the employees we hope to keep employed during the coming months will take a 20% across the board salary/wage decrease. All salaried managers will have their time and compensation reduced by 50%. The salary decrease will reduce the $60,000 to $48,000, and the drop to half-time employment will lower the $48,000 to $24,000. That leaves $36,000 of lost compensation for this manager. If Work Share will pay 60% of this, he/she will receive $21,600 in benefits. Added to the $24,000 of ongoing compensation this will result I total earnings of $45,600. This gives the manager 76% of the original salary while lowering the cost to the company to 40% of original salary. The 45,600 total income is $9,600 more than this managers $36,000 maximum UI benefit.

o An hourly employee now earning $16 per hour and working full time has earned $32,000 per year plus any overtime earnings. The 20% wage reduction will lower his/her compensation to 12.80 per hour or $25,600 per year at full time and $12,800 per year at 20 hours per week. The total wage decrease is $19,200. 60% of that or $11,520 should be available as UI benefits through the Shared Work program, brining total earnings for this employee to $24,320. This is $5,120 more than his/her maximum UI benefit of $19,200 per year.

· It is our understanding that 20 hours per week is the minimum paid time that is allowed under Shared Work, though it is possible that will be reconsidered by DEED as they look for additional ways to support employees and small business.

Dennis adds: 

Please understand that the examples I gave to Jim and which he passed on to  you in the email below, are based on our best understanding of how the Shared Work program functions.  Detailed info has been difficult to get from DEED staff due to the huge burdens on them these days. We will know if we understand this correctly when our people begin applying on Monday, the first day they will be eligible to do so.  I will let you know more then.

 

 


3/25/20 Info on Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Things are happening so quickly, you may not remember that on March 18, Congress passed and the president signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The act provides paid sick leave and extended family and medical leave -- including for people who must leave work because they've lost access to child care. The provisions of the act take effect April 1. Yesterday, the federal Department of Labor provided its first guidance on how the act will operate. The guidance includes a fact sheet for workers, a fact sheet for employers and a set of questions and answers. All of this information is available here:

https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20200324


3/24/20 More info on state emergency loans for small business

Folks: This morning, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) provided more information about its new emergency loan program. Here are the high points:


1. The application is available on the website cited at the bottom of this post. If you are interested, best to apply as early as possible..

2. They are encouraging you to seek loans first from a bank with whom you have an existing relationship. If you get turned down, then apply to DEED.

3. DEED is looking at this as a "bridge loan" to carry you over until you can find other financial aid. So they expect you also to apply for a Small Business Administration disaster loan. But that will take at least 3-4 weeks to get approved; the DEED loan is to get you over that period.

4. These loans are only available to businesses required to shut down by Gov. Walz executive orders. 

5. These loans will be processed through 23 existing DEED-connected lending agencies. The two that would work for Cook County businesses are:

Entrepreneur Fund
www.entrepreneurfund.org
218-623-5747
202 W. Superior Street, Suite 311
Duluth, MN. 55802


and


Northland Foundation
www.northlandfdn.org
218-723-4040
202 West Superior Street, Suite 610
Duluth, MN 55802



6. You can find more information about this emergency loan program here: 

  https://mn.gov/deed/business/financing-business/deed-programs/peacetime/ 

Regards,

Jim 
 


 


3/24/20 Pat Campanaro, our local Small Business Development counselor, provides advice and guidance for business people working to submit those SBA disaster loan applications. You can find her help here: https://bit.ly/2UcWDZZ
 

 


 


3/23/20 New source of state business aid. 

A message from Steve Grove, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development:

Hello everyone, 
 
We know that small businesses and independent contractors throughout the state are facing significant challenges due to COVID-19.   
 
Executive Order 20-15, announced by Governor Walz today, is intended to offer emergency help for business owners affected by the temporary closures under Executive Order 20-04 and 20-08 who do not have enough cash flow to meet their basic family needs. 
 
You can find out more about this executive order here. The order does a few things:  
 
First, it directs DEED to create a Small Business Emergency Loan Program by making available $30 million from special revenue funds.  These dollars will be used by DEED’s lender network to make loans of between $2,500 and $35,000 for qualifying small businesses. The loans will be 50% forgivable, and offered at a 0% interest rate. These emergency loans will be made by an existing network of lenders DEED works with across the state. DEED expects loan applications will available later this week through our lender network. Notably, we are asking all small business who need loans to apply with the SBA as well, to ensure we’re taking advantage of all the federal dollars available for Minnesota businesses. 
 
Applications will open up later this week. For more information on the specifics, please visit our COVID-19 hub for businesses. 
 
Second, effective immediately, any local unit of government or lending partner that has revolving loan funds that were provided by the State Minnesota Investment Fund program appropriations, or Minnesota Investment Fund Disaster program appropriations, may over the next 90 days issue loans to retail and service providers. Full State guidelines for the use of these funds can be found at the Minnesota Investment Fund page. Local units of government must also follow their individual revolving loan fund guidelines. To determine if funds are available near you, please contact your local government directly.  

3/23/20 The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development holds a phone conference each morning. Reps. from departments of commerce, labor and industry, revenue participate. Here are important highlights from this morning:

 SBA disaster loans: As you all know, the federal Small Business Administration has made Minnesota businesses eligible for disaster loans. These carry a low interest rate, a payback of up to 30 years and a maximum of $2 million. You can access the SBA loan site here: https://bit.ly/2WwFrjz

The message from St. Paul this morning was to apply as soon as you can. There is a rush of applications, and while the SBA is staffing up as quickly as it can, the earlier you get your loan application in, the better. It takes at least a three week turnaround for your loan application to be processed, then an additional five days before you receive your first $25,000 loan installment, with the rest to follow. So please apply early.

Shelter in place: DEED is getting lots of questions about which businesses and which jobs will be deemed "essential" when/if Gov. Walz makes a "shelter in place" proclamation. Steve Grove, DEED commissioner, said that Walz has not made a decision yet, but that they are assembling as comprehensive a list as possible of what will constitute "essential" industries and businesses. Grove also said there will be a process in place for businesses to make a request that they be included in that list.

Expiring business licenses: The Department of Commerce (https://mn.gov/commerce/) said it is discussing with the Legislature the actions needed to extending deadlines for renewing expiring business licenses. The Department of Labor and Industry (https://www.dli.mn.gov/) said it is granting a 90-day extension on continuing education requirements. Labor and Industry said it also is seeing an increase in the number of discrimination complaints filed by employees who say they are being punished for raising concerns about health and safety; the department reminded employers they cannot punish workers for this.

Individual income tax filing deadline: The feds have extended until July 15 the deadline for filing federal income tax returns. The Minnesota Department of Revenue (https://www.revenue.state.mn.us/minnesota-department-revenue) said it hopes to make an announcement today about a similar extension for Minnesota tax returns. The department also reminded us that it has instituted a 30-day filing extension for monthly sales tax filers. The filings due March 20 are not due until April 20.

 Who is hiring now?: Several people made the point that while there have been a great many layoffs, some employers badly need workers. So there is a great need for employers who need workers to make that known as widely as possible. Those are the highlights of this phone conference. A  recording of the entire conversation, which is 30 minutes long, is available here: https://bit.ly/2J7WXD5


3/21 Statement from Chamber Board regarding business closings
The board of directors of the Cook County Chamber strongly applauds actions taken by non-essential businesses, including most Cook County lodging properties,  to begin the process of shutting their doors to guests for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The board also strongly urges all non-essential businesses that have not yet started winding down to begin that process immediately.

During the board meeting-by-phone Saturday morning, several  members offered the use of the facilities and staff to help manage this crisis, all at no cost to the county. The offers included use of empty lodging for those who require quarantine but not hospitalization, use of kitchen facilities and staff to prepare food for whatever need arises, and use of personnel to backstop county employees who are overwhelmed by work. County Board Chair Myron Bursheim and Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers were on the call and expressed gratitude for the offers. While not needed at the moment, she noted, they very well might be critical as this develops. 

The chamber board recognized the complicated and painful process shutting down will involve for businesses, including many owners and managers of lodging properties. The board noted it will be especially complicated for housing complexes that are governed by homeowners associations whose members are scattered far and wide. But the board concluded that closing is a critically important step in the battle against COVID-19 and should be taken as soon as possible for the following reasons:

·       Gov. Tim Walz has been edging closer and closer to declaring that all Minnesotans should “shelter in place.” When that declaration is made, guests at lodging establishments as well as guests visiting residents in Cook County should be already home or on their way. The governor is likely to give a day or two before the order takes effect, but unless lodging managers and residents wish to be responsible for their guests for the next several months of increasing isolation and hardship, they need to see those guests on their way now. 

·       The medical staff at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and North Shore Health has urged this action as a critical step in ensuring the county health care system is not overburdened as they begin to receive and treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

 “With Gov. Tim Walz already urging Minnesotans to stay home, with a shelter-in-place declaration due soon, and with our local medical institutions urging this action, it just makes a great deal of good sense for all non-essential businesses to prepare their properties to close down in an orderly but urgent manner,” said Jim Boyd, executive director for the chamber. “We are gratified that most owners and managers have recognized that reality and taken action to close.

“We all grasp how difficult this action is, for owners and staff. The incomes of many families will be destroyed, and the future of numerous businesses will be endangered. This is an extremely difficult action we request. But it is the right thing to do, for our guests and for the people who call Cook County home. To those who must leave, we say, Godspeed.” 


3/20/20 Apply for Small Business disaster loans from SBA

Minnesota businesses have now been declared eligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans.

The declaration allows all Minnesota small businesses (according to SBA’s size standards) with a substantial economic injury related to COVID-19 to apply for loans of up to $2M. These loans can go toward working capital to meet needs including payroll, accounts payable, and fixed debt payments until the situation improves. Interest rates are 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profits. Business owners can apply for a loan HERE.

Details include: 
Rates range from 2.75%-3.75% with terms up to 30 years. 

Loan proceeds may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred. 

Loans under $25,000 can be made without collateral while loans over $25,000 should be collateralized. (However, the SBA will not decline a loan for lack of collateral.)

The applicant must have an acceptable credit history and ability to repay the loan, as determined by the SBA.

No cost to apply nor any obligation to accept the loan if approved. 

The national call center is staffed seven days a week. Call them at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY/TDD: 1-800-877-8339) or email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

The loan process can be found at the link below, and turnaround time is approximately five days for review, and the receipt of funds once the loan is approved takes approximately 3 weeks.


3/19/20 New Small Business Relief Fund

The Entrepreneur Fund has now created the Small Business Relief Fund for Northeast and Central Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin. EF is soliciting donations to this fund so that it might make grants "to business owners who are facing significant challenges, but do not qualify for local, state or federal relief.

"The Relief Fund will provide direct grants to small business owners in northeast and central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. Small businesses are in need of immediate liquidity to make key changes to operations and weather this storm. 100% of donated funds will go to small businesses and all contributions are tax deductible."

You can learn more, and make donations, HERE.


3/19/20 Entire Minnesota congressional delegation has written to the Small Business Administration urging immediate action to make Minnesota businesses eligible for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

These are low-interest loans, for up to $2 million and 30 year payback, to help businesses survive disasters like that which we are experiencing now. The loans are available to both for-profit and non-profit businesses

Here is the press release:

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Representatives Jim Hagedorn (MN-01), Angie Craig (MN-02), Dean Phillips (MN-03), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Tom Emmer (MN-06), Collin Peterson (MN-07), and Pete Stauber (MN-08) wrote a letter to Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza calling on the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide assistance in the form of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for Minnesota businesses following significant economic impacts from the coronavirus (COVD-19) pandemic.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Administrator Carranza:
We write to you in strong support of Minnesota’s request for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) declaration under 13 C.F.R. § 123.3 to provide assistance in the form of SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) for Minnesota businesses suffering economic harm as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

We urge you to approve a statewide EIDL Declaration to assist the business community throughout our state.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a significant impact on small businesses throughout Minnesota—including those in and associated with the hospitality, educational support, retail, and restaurant industries. The measures necessary to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 have resulted in canceled events, closures of schools and businesses, and a dramatic decline in revenues in key sectors of our economy.

We have heard directly from Minnesota small business owners about the substantial losses that they are now facing due to the COVID-19 disaster, which is causing extensive economic damage in our state and which necessitates financial assistance from the federal government.
Thank you for your attention to this critical request. We look forward to working with you to protect our small businesses.



3/19/20 Impact on small business of new law responding to virus crisis

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which just passed Congress, will have large impacts on small business. It is a complex piece of legislation. A good synopsis is offered in this article from the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman international law firm. You will find it HERE. 

3/19/20 Merchants: Have parcels for folks to pick up in Grand Marais? Buck's can help

Dear Grand Marais business folk: If you are doing business via online or telephone sales and need to arrange for people to pickup their prepaid orders, Stephen Skeels at Buck's Hardware is volunteering to help: If people need to pick up things they have purchased from you, at times when  you will not be able to be in your place of business, you can leave packages at Buck's for pick up there. 


Buck's staff is well versed in this activity because they serve as points of service for UPS and Speedy Delivery. 

It is incredibly generous and community minded of Stephen to offer this service. This is the sort of attitude that will help us survive this crisis.
 


3/19/20: Shared Work approach to unemployment compensation

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has developed a program to help reduce the number of layoffs businesses must make. If, for example, you have two full-time workers but only 40 hours of work, if  you keep both workers on and reduce their work to 20 hours per week, the Shared Work program will pay them up to half of the wages each employee loses. So instead of one worker having full-time work and one worker having none, each employee would work half time and be paid about 75 percent of their salary. If you are interested in exploring the Shared Work program, you can find information HERE.


3/19/20: SBA Disaster Loan Program

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reports that ALL Minnesota counties have qualified for the federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program. The loans are not available yet, but DEED expects that to change soon.

Disaster loans will be available to both for-profit and non-profit businesses. Loans up to $2 million and for up to 30 years will be offered. The interest rate to for-profit businesses will be 3.75 percent and 2.75 percent to

 
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