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Economic Development office looks to help city businesses

Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes outlined steps his office has been taking to help small businesses in the city impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

During City Council’s virtual meeting Wednesday, Hughes noted that about 10 of the city’s restaurants were able to open with outdoor seating when Virginia moved into Phase I of its reopening plan May 15. The YesSuffolk.com website currently lists 14 locations open with outdoor seating.

“Most did not have any approval or set up for that,” Hughes said. “What occurred within hours, which again was really impressive by the planning staff, Public Works, the fire department and others, got 10 businesses open to get some revenue in throughout the city, whether they were encroachment permits or temporary use (permits). I’m really impressed to see the hustle there.”

Hughes said the Economic Development Authority will consider a COVID-19 small business impact assistance grant program at its next meeting, which could take place virtually June 10.

Economic Development staff has reviewed more than 10 grant and loan programs in different Virginia localities, and has made several recommendations for grant eligibility. They include city businesses with physical locations that were impacted by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 53 and other directives. The businesses must have been established before Jan. 1, 2020, be in good standing with the city and have 50 or fewer employees.

The grants would be used to reimburse businesses who are using money to pay for utilities, rent or mortgage payments, insurance or similar expenses, inventory and operating equipment.

“This is a framework of what we’re proposing,” Hughes told council. “We hope to have this live June 10. Potentially, it’s something we could look at as it moves forward as we work out some of the bugs.”

Hughes also noted small business resources on the COVID-19 resource page of its YesSuffolk.com website, including ones from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, restaurantowner.com, as well as a listing of businesses in the city that are hiring.