Edmonton launches first phase of recovery grant program for businesses

Edmonton businesses struggling to stay afloat during COVID-19 pandemic may apply for grants of $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 from the City of Edmonton starting this week.  

'It’s a small contribution to a very, very big problem for sure,' says Coun. Michael Walters 

A grant program aimed at helping Edmonton businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic will begin taking applications on Wednesday. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Edmonton businesses struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic may apply for grants from the City of Edmonton starting Wednesday. 

The city will begin accepting applications to its economic recovery program, which will award businesses $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 in the program's first phase. 

City council approved the recovery grant policy at a meeting Monday.

The city estimates it will award about 900 grants in the first phase — nearly 600 of which will be $1,000 — at a cost of $1.6 million. 

Coun. Michael Walters said it won't solve everything but may come in handy for some businesses. 

"I think some of those smaller amounts will go a fair way to help a business with some of those costs, considering their margins," Walters said in a virtual media scrum. "It's a small contribution to a very, very big problem for sure." 

Jeff Chase, the city's director of local economy, said businesses may use the money to buy personal protective equipment, renovate their space to adhere to health guidelines, transition to a virtual workforce or launch e-commerce platforms. 

Walters noted that business associations and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce support the initiative. 

"It's going to be in hot demand and it's in response to COVID — everything being designed in response to COVID is inherently imperfect because it's happening fairly quickly," he said.

    Alberta businesses are re-opening as the province moves through its relaunch strategy. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

    Todd Janes, executive director of the Stony Plain Road and Area Business Association, told CBC News that he's pleased the city reacted quickly. 

    "To have them be responsive toward small- and medium-size businesses, I think, really places how much city council and city administration values small businesses and how important they are to our economy," he said. 

    Janes said the initiative is a chance for Edmonton to think about what neighbourhoods will look like in the future and to focus on supporting local retailers. 

    "I want to ensure that this corner store is still here, I want to ensure that this bakery is still here in 10 years," he said. 

    Applications that best meet the highest number of core criteria will be given priority when it comes to funding. 

    Businesses are asked to show how they are rehiring or creating new staff positions, supporting the transition to a low-carbon future and benefiting members of the community that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

    They're also expected to leverage funds from partner organizations or other levels of government to enhance the impact of the grants, the policy says. 

    Phase Two in 2021

    The second phase of the recovery program starts Jan. 1 and runs to the end of 2021. 

    During this time, businesses may apply for $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000 grants. The city estimates it will spend about $2.4 million on 300 grants during the second phase. 

    Walters said this phase will focus more on long-term projects. 

    "Are you starting or expanding or altering your business to help diversify the economy?" he said of the criteria. 

    The Economic Recovery Grant program includes a business stream, in which business associations can qualify for up to $75,000 to work with local companies to develop new economic opportunities. 

    Chase said the shop local campaign — spearheaded by Business Improvement Areas — is one example of where the grants can be used. 

    "The BIAs I know are working on some collaborative programs between them so they would, I think, be interested in working together on things that would have bigger impact." 

    Janes said the community can get creative with ideas.

    "Maybe we do a drive-in movie or something where you can park your car in a large parking lot and order on a menu and get delivered to your car." 

    The city estimates it will award 35 grants a week in the first phase this year. The total cost of the grant program is set at $5.3 million.