By RYAN CAMPBELL
The Union Democrat
Select small businesses in Sonora may be able to get some help from a federal grant in the near future.
The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority governing board voted Friday to partner with the Sonora Microenterprise Grant. Part of the Community Development Block Grant, which provides federal funds to city development projects, the Microenterprise Grant is aimed at offering loans and advice to small businesses.
The city could potentially receive $400,000 for the entire grant over the next three years, according to Larry Cope, TCEDA director. $164,000 of that money will be used by the TCEDA to conduct business counseling sessions.
The purpose of Friday’s vote was to give the TCEDA the power to handle business training aspects of the grant, while the city will approve loans, according to Cope. After a brief debate about how staff could best utilize their time on the project, it was approved unanimously.
“It raises the tide all the way around,” said Paula Johansen, owner of Blue Print and Copy Co.
She is planning to hire an additional staff member this year and said that programs like the CDBG grant will encourage other small businesses to do likewise.
The program is designed to aid at least 30 local business owners and provide at least 10 loans of up to $15,000, according to Rachelle Kellogg, Sonora Community Development director. The TCEDA will be in charge of organizing training staff and hiring counselors.
“We don’t just want to hand out money,” said governing board member John Gray. “We want to get small businesses to the point where they can be successful.”
Businesses must be low-income and have fewer than five employees to be eligible for the program. TCEDA will be able to start using the funds as soon as they are approved by the city council and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Kellogg said.