Bello, Morelle announce Fast Forward Monroe, $15 million grant program to help small businesses

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, Congressman Joe Morelle and other local officials gathered on Wednesday to announce a new small business grant program through Monroe County.

Fast Forward Monroe will provide a grant for local small business owners in Monroe County, officials announced.

“It is no secret that COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, but it has especially impacted the economic vitality of our small businesses,” Bello said at Wednesday’s press conference, which took place in the alley of the Village Gate. “We are committed to ensuring that Monroe County emerges from the pandemic in a position to succeed and prosper for future generations.”

“This is an extraordinary program: $15 million, no red tape — just resources to help our community,” Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bob Duffy said.

The grant will disperse funds based on size of local businesses:

  • Up to $10,000 for businesses with 0-2 full time employees
  • Up to $15,000 for businesses with 3-25 full time employees
  • Up to $20,000 for businesses with 26-50 full time employees

According to officials, the grant will first target minority and women-owned businesses and those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with priority assistance.

“As these folks [small business owners] struggle, they have the hopes, needs, and desires of their employees and customers in mind,” Rep. Morelle said. “Not just any small businesses, but we’re talking about communities of colors. We’ve seen the disparity that these communities face and we’re going to continue to fight at the federal and local level.”

“When we’re discussing the realities of minority-owned businesses, two-thirds of that specific demographic are currently struggling,” said Monroe County Legislature Minority Leader Yversha Roman. “We understand that we have to support community businesses because they represent the vitality of our organizations and communities. I am excited about $15 million entering out community that supports our local businesses and keep us thriving.”

Local officials released the Fast Forward Monroe business survey throughout the months of August and September in response to the pandemic. Results of the survey showed that in addition to needing PPE and other critical supplies, many small businesses were seeking financial assistance to help cover COVID-related business expenses and other funding shortfalls.

“This is critical, it’s keeping our eyes on the future to grow here, and sustain small businesses who are desperate for cash,” said Matt Hurlbutt, President and CEO of Rochester Regional Economic Development.

“Chain restaurants are doing great now, they are capitalized with rainy day funds and are poised to survive the pandemic,” said Monroe County Legislator Barnhart. “Independent restaurants are struggling, however. They’ve done a lot for us, with following guidelines, to keep people employed and make sure we have places to eat — and now it’s our turn to return the favor.”

Lento Restaurant, a Village Gate restaurant, is one of many that will benefit from the new Fast Forward Monroe program.

Lento chef and owner Art Rogers has been running the business for nearly 14 years, and he was forced to lay off employees once the pandemic hit. He says the business is now recovering, but slowly, given the capacity and distancing regulations in place.

“We’ve brought most people back, at least at a part-time basis,” Rogers said. “Revenue has gone up as well, but we’re not where we would usually be. The fall is generally one of the busiest, and best times and we’ve seen a big drop.”

Rogers says he is already planning to apply for money through the new grant program.

“You can always go to the chains after this thing is over, but I think this is what makes our community small and dynamic — these independently owned businesses,” Rogers said.

Bello said that Monroe County has done well in combatting the spread of the virus, but there is still a long way to go.

“Were not, by any imagine, out of the woods on this. COVID is still here, we’re seeing numbers across the country,” Bello said. “As we head through these winter months we have to be vigilant, we have to be smart.”

MORE | Monroe County has lowest COVID-19 case rate in country for communities with more than 500,000 people

The deadline for the application for small businesses is November 2 at 5 p.m. The application can be found here.

Officials said funds should be released about three weeks after the application process.

Monroe County Legislature Republicans, who have been feuding with the Bello administration over use of CARES Act funding, says the county executive didn’t invite anyone to Wednesday’s event. Republican Majority Caucus spokeswoman Bridget Harvey, released this statement regarding Wednesday’s press conference:

“County Executive Bello claims to champion bi-partisanship but his actions say otherwise. Not a single member of the Republican Majority or Black and Asian Democratic Caucus were invited to or notified of today’s announcement. It’s clear he is using these taxpayer funds, meant to help the community respond to the COVID-19 crisis, as propaganda for his Democrat political allies. The County Executive could have provided relief to small business owners months ago but decided to wait until less than two-weeks before Election Day to make the announcement.”

Full press conference

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