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$25 million in grants available to isle businesses, nonprofits

Help is now available to small and midsize businesses and nonprofits forced to change the way they operate because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. David Ige on Tuesday unveiled a $25 million program that will offer grants of up to $10,000 to reimburse costs or cover future expenses linked to the changes needed to cope with the new economy.

“In recent months businesses have had to show creativity and grit just to survive,” Ige said at a Capitol news conference. “In other words, they’ve had to pivot from one way of working to something radically different.”

Changes that businesses have made include investing in e-commerce, reconfiguring spaces, adding hygiene measures and changing the way customer sales are accomplished.

“This grant helps take some of the pressure off businesses so they can figure out how best to pivot in this new environment,” the governor said.

The program, to be underwritten by federal CARES Act relief funds, is being offered in partnership with Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, which will administer the grants.

“When COVID hit us in March, many businesses had no playbook,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the chamber. “This was obviously an unprecedented situation, and so, as you can see, COVID-19 caused many businesses to change the way they operate.”

“We hope this grant will ease the burden on companies who are making the shift, while inspiring others to rethink and re-imagine that they can add to the resilience of their business,” she said.

In addition to the grants, the program will offer technical assistance — including workshops, training and consultant services — plus an online marketplace for businesses to access products and services to assist them in transforming their operations.

To qualify for a grant, a business must have fewer than 100 employees, operate in a physical commercial space in Hawaii, have suffered economic injury due to COVID-19 and have been in business prior to March 20.

Examples of expenses that can be reimbursed include web design and social media, improving automation or training and implementing physical distancing measures.

Gayla Young, founder and owner of Pipeline Bakeshop and Creamery in Kaimuki, said her business had to change quite a bit after the pandemic hit.

In order to adapt and attract customers, the business put its entire menu online, increased its social media presence and began to ship nationwide, she said. In addition, the bakery is developing an app aimed at capturing a younger clientele.

“I really think the pivot grant is going to be a substantial benefit to a lot of businesses,” Young said.

Todd Cullison, executive director of the Hawaii Nature Center, said the pandemic drastically affected the bottom line and forced changes in the way his nonprofit operated.

To adapt, online content was developed, he said, and then there were expenses for measures to accommodate physical distancing with fewer students on nature tours, among other things.

“This particular grant opportunity as a nonprofit will be a significant help,” Cullison said. “It will help not just us, but a lot of nonprofits in our same situation.”

The grant application portal opens Thursday and will remain open through Nov. 23, as long as funds are available.

More information is available at the program’s new website, hawaiibizpivot.org.

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