A dog stares in wonder at the empty parking lot at Paine Field Terminal earlier this month. The $7 million First in Flight Fund will provide up to $1 million to tenants at Paine Field and other aviation businesses in the county. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

A dog stares in wonder at the empty parking lot at Paine Field Terminal earlier this month. The $7 million First in Flight Fund will provide up to $1 million to tenants at Paine Field and other aviation businesses in the county. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Small business relief effort inundated with 850 applications

The economy in and around Everett has struggled amid fallen revenues and uncertainty about the future.

EVERETT — Two grant opportunities for local businesses attracted more than 850 applications in the first 24 hours after an online portal opened for submissions on Thursday afternoon, according to Snohomish County officials.

The $7 million First in Flight Fund will provide up to $1 million to tenants at Paine Field and other aviation businesses in the county. And the other initiative — known as the Snohomish County Small Business Relief, Recovery, and Resiliency (R3) Grant Program — will dole out sums of up to $25,000, for a total of $7.5 million, to small businesses in industries such as dining and retail.

The flood of competition for the two county grant programs comes as local businesses continue to bleed revenues due to the coronavirus crisis and the statewide economic shutdown that came with it.

A survey of more than 120 businesses countywide found that 40 had seen at least a 75% decline in revenue amid the pandemic. Another 38 businesses reported earnings were down at least 25%. Results of the local business needs assessment were presented on Friday at the second meeting of the county’s Economic & Workforce Recovery Task Force.

Restaurants, hospitality businesses and small retailers were among those hardest hit, the results show.

Nearly 60% of businesses said they had to furlough or lay off employees, and more than one-third stated they had to take those same measures for most of their employees, according to the assessment.

Local companies are grappling with an uncertain future. That’s what county officials found when they convened a series of advisory groups with representatives from businesses, nonprofits, governments and other organizations.

“This was brought up time and time again in all of the meetings — just uncertainty about when will reopening occur? What will it look like?” said James Henderson, the county’s chief of economic and workforce development, during the meeting.

“They really don’t know what the new world will look like once they are allowed to reopen, and some of them are really beginning to think that perhaps their business model or business plan that they started with may not be relevant anymore,” Henderson said.

Next month, the county could enter the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen the state. However, it likely won’t be by June 1 because there are still too many new COVID-19 cases each day to meet a required threshold, local officials said on Friday. The second phase will clear the way for the reopening of many businesses, including retailers, real estate firms, hair and nail salons, barbers and pet groomers. Restaurants will also be allowed to operate at less than 50% capacity.

Meanwhile, business owners are thinking about how their limited budgets will impact not only their payrolls, but also their operating hours and inventories, Henderson said.

Some see opportunities when it comes to retraining staff members to return to work as the reopening progresses, he said. Others, in dire financial straits, are struggling to procure protective gear that employees will need for the next phase.

The task force, which will meet again next month, discussed how to help businesses to parse information coming from various government authorities on what’s safe and what’s not.

Consumer confidence must rebound, members of the group agreed, if the economy is to reopen successfully.

For more information on the county grant programs, or to apply, visit workforcesnohomish.org.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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