Cornell supports local small business COVID-19 fund
By Joe Wilensky
Cornell University has made a $100,000 contribution to help establish a Tompkins County/City of Ithaca COVID-19 Small Business Resiliency Fund to support and stabilize local small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Created by a team of community partners and local economic development agencies, the fund launched with $390,000 that will be used to rapidly provide up to $5,000 in emergency relief per business in forgivable microloans to help owners retain their businesses and employees during the closures forced by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“Ithaca is one of the best small cities in America, in part because of its beauty, diversity and strong community spirit,” said Cornell President Martha E. Pollack. “Our small businesses are the backbone of our local life, drawing people to Ithaca from around the region, and serving as employers and economic drivers, as well as contributors to the common good. Cornell University is pleased to support the Small Business Resiliency Fund, and we stand united with all who are working to help to address our community’s pressing needs in this challenging time.”
The other local partners are: the Tompkins County Development Corp., Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, the city of Ithaca, Tompkins County Area Development, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and the Tompkins County Workforce Investment Board.
Cornell’s contribution to the fund was intended not only to pledge community support during a difficult and unprecedented financial time for the university and the Ithaca and Tompkins County community, but also to inspire additional participation and partnership.
Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said that while the federal government is assisting small businesses nationwide through the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and the Paycheck Protection Program, “there remains a significant gap in the assistance needed by our local small and micro businesses. We want these businesses to weather this crisis and come out reopened on the other side.
“Our Small Business Resiliency Fund was created to help make that happen,” Ferguson said. “We are most grateful to Cornell University, as well as the city of Ithaca and the Tompkins County Development Corp., for providing the seed funding that will help some 75 small and micro businesses here in our community. This program could cover their rent for one to two months or help pay the utility bills. We hope Cornell’s participation will encourage others to join this effort to stabilize our local economy and recover from the devastation of COVID-19.”
The local fund is intended to be a bridge of support before additional state and federal resources become available and the current mandated social distancing restrictions are relaxed. Among other priorities, the fund aims to support ground-floor storefront businesses open to the general public, and businesses in established commercial districts.
“Local small businesses have been hit hard, and we all need to do what we can to support them and give them a fighting chance to withstand the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09. “Fortunately, we have an incredibly creative, collaborative and resilient community. This fund is just one more example of how we are coming together to support our local small businesses, and I’m proud that the city has been able to play a role in pulling this together with our partners on behalf of businesses throughout Tompkins County.”
Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca will manage the intake and application process for the fund, and will disburse approved loans. A loan review committee comprising local economic development professionals will review applications for eligibility.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis in batches beginning April 15, with initial weekly loan approvals by April 21 and initial loan closings by April 25. Applications will be reviewed and processed until the funds are exhausted.
The fund defines a small business as having no more than 25 full-time employees and less than $2.5 million in annual gross revenue. Loans, which will carry a 0% interest rate over an 18-month term, will be forgiven for businesses that have reopened and are in operation by Dec. 1, 2020. Businesses from throughout Tompkins County, including the city of Ithaca, are eligible to apply.
For more information and full program guidelines, visit the city’s website for COVID-19 business resources.