If you own a small business in Orange County, you may soon be able to apply for up to $10,000 to grow your business.
A 1/4 cent sales tax, approved by voters in 2011, generates $2.5 million annually for education and economic development in the county. Of that money, $100,000 is allotted for business investment grants, and $60,000 for agriculture grants.
At Tuesday night’s work session in Chapel Hill, the Orange County Board of Commissioners talked about how best to distribute that money to agricultural and non-agricultural businesses to stimulate growth and job creation.
Jim Kitchen, a UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School lecturer and member of Orange County’s Economic Development Advisory Board, helped draft the grant programs.
He imagined one applicant’s story.
“That guy will come in and say, ‘I need a new barber chair. I have two, right now. If I had a third, I could hire another barber. And I could increase my business by $100,000 next year, which would have a significant impact on me and the community,’” said Kitchen. “Okay great, you have validated the demand, and you’re passionate about getting it done.”
Karen McAdams, an Efland farmer and member of the advisory board, also worked on developing the programs.
“We do have a diverse and strong agricultural realm here in Orange County,” said McAdams. “We have the traditional farmers and we have new farmers.”
Economic Development Advisory Board members proposed two types of grants for businesses, including farms.
Small grants of up to $1,000 would have a simplified application process. Commissioners debated about whether this amount is too small to be effective.
Large grants of $1,000 to $10,000 would require a more thorough application, including more detailed financial information.
Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said the selection process should not be weighed heavily toward business “innovation.”
“The idea is to get more income,” said Pelissier. “So if the market is far from saturated on strawberries, why wouldn’t you want to help somebody who wants to add on strawberries?”
County officials will hash out details of the grant programs, which will likely include partnerships between grant recipients and mentors. Commissioners could approve these programs at the board meeting on February 3.