State agency, local org continue efforts to help economy weather coronavirus storm


BEMIDJI -- Nearly $1 million of state funds is being processed by Greater Bemidji Economic Development to help desperate businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, and indicators show this is only the beginning.

The organization was selected by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development as a certified lender for the state's small business disaster loan program. According to Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel, in the time since being certified, Greater Bemidji has worked with nearly 30 businesses.

"Right now, we have commitments for 18 businesses, for $621,500," Hengel said. "There's another nine being submitted today to the state for approval, which will be another $251,900. There's room still, too. If there are businesses forced to close by the governor's initial announcement, they can contact Greater Bemidji. There's still an opportunity to apply."

With many businesses having to close, unemployment numbers have been on the rise. According to DEED, the labor force decreased by 1.5% from February to March, with the state losing 15,400 private sector jobs. Beltrami County in particular has had 3,546 unemployment insurance claims since March 15.

"March employment numbers show only the leading edge of the unprecedented impact on Minnesota employment we've seen since March 16 due to steps taken to slow the spread of COVID-19," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a press release. "DEED is dedicated to helping the hundreds of thousands of workers affected by the COVID-19 response since mid-March."


"It's extremely unique," DEED Regional Analysis and Outreach Manager Cameron Macht told the Pioneer. "We've never seen unemployment insurance activity jump up like this. It's been a big deal in the northwest part of the state, that area has a higher concentration of unemployment because of the industries that have been hit."

With the economic impacts being so widespread, Greater Bemidji has expanded its efforts to create another, local fund for small businesses to draw from, in addition to the state's. With $250,000 from Greater Bemidji, another $250,000 from Beltrami County and $200,000 from Paul Bunyan Communications, $700,000 is now available in the fund.

"The idea is to have this fund here for a while," Hengel said. "In part, because I have a concern that there will be a lingering effect on businesses. There will be a backside to this."

The loans have a maximum amount of $50,000, but Hengel said the expectation is for loans around $30,000. Coinciding with this measure, the city of Bemidji created its own loan program with $250,000, offering loans of up to $25,000.

Greater Bemidji can be reached at (218) 444-5757.

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