St. Louis County will likely distribute $24.5 million in federal rescue dollars through local economic development agencies, and 50% or more could be targeted for struggling businesses.

“Realistically, it will probably be a minimum of 50% for St. Louis County,” Matt Johnson, planning and community development director, said. “We’re really trying to get a good sense of where the need is.”

Matthew Johnson
Matthew Johnson

On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan to distribute $841 million in relief to cities, counties and townships across the state. The funding was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act at the end of March.

The funding can be used to support local government services, as well as grants to businesses, hospitals and individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19. The money cannot be used to fill in for lost tax revenue.

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Earlier this week, Commissioner Keith Nelson, of Virginia, talked to the News Tribune about businesses forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's killing small business," Nelson said. "We could lose 30-35% of small businesses, and I think it's a tragedy."

Johnson said not all businesses were reached by previous relief efforts, including the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“A lot of it went to larger employers,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to determine where the need is.”

The county is looking at needs in mining, health care, manufacturing and industry, and tourism, Johnson said.

The county is scheduled to meet in Virginia with a group of loggers next week to learn more about an industry hit hard with paper mill shutdowns.

“It’s just too much money and too important to not get good stakeholder input,” Johnson said.

This week, the county, city of Duluth, Minnesota Power and Apex, an economic and business development organization based in Duluth, met with Verso to discuss what Johnson called “a smooth transition” should that company be forced to sell its idled Duluth paper mill.

“They have everybody’s full attention,” Johnson said, adding that businesses across the spectrum could benefit from CARES Act programs locally, including categories such as new business startup incentives.

The funding notably took three months for the state to deliver, a fact that rankled U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, who said his 8th Congressional District was among the hardest hit by layoffs and industry slowdowns.

“(I)t’s long overdue,” Stauber said. “In the weeks since the enactment of the CARES Act, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans have lost their jobs and countless businesses have shut down statewide.”

With the funding now available, Johnson expects action soon.

“I just feel an extra sense of urgency to do what we can and do it right,” he said.