More Than 12K Seek $147.7M in ‘Ready for Business’ Money

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More than 12,000 businesses seeking a combined $147.7 million applied for grants under the “Arkansas Ready for Business” program, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission reported Wednesday evening.

The amount of requested dollars is far and above the $55 million legislators allocated to state-administered fund, which is designed to help small businesses reopen as Arkansas rolls back COVID-19 restrictions.

The program took applications from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. That two-day period followed what Gov. Asa Hutchinson described as a “premature” rollout on April 29, during which the program received more than 2,300 applications seeking more than $36 million in funding.

Wednesday evening’s count of total applicants — 12,233 — includes those who applied last week. The applications cover businesses with 196,001 full-time employees and 50,220 part-time employees.

Under the program, businesses can receive $1,000 per employee and up to $100,000 total. They can use the money to buy supplies including personal protective equipment, no-contact thermometers, no-contact point-of-sale payment equipment, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer stations.

Under rules set by the AEDC and approved by legislators, at least 15% of grant recipients will be women or minority-owned businesses, and 75% of total funding will go to businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

According to the AEDC, minority-, women- and disabled veteran-owned businesses accounted for 5,664 — or 46.3% of the applications, amounting to $40.6 million — or 27.5% — of the requests. There were 11,565 applications — 94.5% — for businesses with 50 or fewer employees. 

Alisha Curtis, AEDC’s chief communications and legislative director, said these results will be presented to the Arkansas Legislative Council this Friday “for their consideration as to whether they will allocate more funding to the program beyond the $55 million presently authorized.” She said no grant awards can be disbursed until the ALC finalizes the funding amount.

Hutchinson last week said that the program launched “prematurely” on April 29, and many would-be applicants were locked out of the fund when the amount of requests surpassed the program’s original $15 million limit.

On Friday, the state Department of Commerce submitted a new version of the program to the state’s CARES Act Steering Committee, which determines how Arkansas will spend its $1.25 billion share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The “Ready for Business” program is funded by CARES dollars. The department requested an additional $85 million from the CARES Act allocation, along with new guidelines about what businesses could receive it.

Legislators debated into the weekend how much to allocate to the program, and on Sunday co-chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council, who have ultimate oversight, approved $40 million, to bring the fund’s total to $55 million. They said they would revisit the issue later this week to see whether they should allocate more money.

On Monday, the governor said he hoped the $55 million would be sufficient.

“If the applications exceed that amount, then there will be a discussion as to whether that needs to be supplemented — that remains to be seen,” the governor said Monday. “Hopefully this will be sufficient. It’d be wonderful to believe that this will be sufficient for our businesses but we’ll just have to wait to see …”