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All Aspects of Grant Assistance Covered at Commissioner Work Session

Wednesday, August 11, 2021 @ 12:08 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

IMG_2244-768x716CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Jill Foys, executive director of the Northwest Commission, (pictured above) presented a 30-minute master class on grant administration on Tuesday morning during a work session of the Clarion County Commissioners.

The Northwest Commission is a local development district serving an eight-county region of Northwest Pennsylvania, including Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, and Warren Counties.

Many grants and funding are available from different “alphabet” government agencies that require the expert ability in completing applications and administering programs. Northwest provides that advice and expertise for counties and municipalities in its service area.

“Northwest Commission is the local development created by the Appalachian regional commission in the mid-sixties,” Foys said. “During the war on poverty, we were implemented. We were the vision of John F. Kennedy and implemented by President Lyndon Johnson.

“Our core components are economic development and enterprise development, which is business finance, working with our banks to provide funding to our small businesses, government contracting, working with our businesses who want to sell their goods or services to the state, federal, or local governments.”

For example, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) just announced its power dollars for this year.

Clarion County is still in the running and is in the final stages of review and expecting a decision on a $1,096,125.00 grant for a broadband project. If approved, it would be a $2,192,205.00 broadband project, with Clarion County providing a 50 percent match.

“We applied for that, and Delta Development did the grant writing,” said Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan.

“We have to match it dollar for dollar,” said Tharan. “This is designated for under-served areas in Clarion County. Fiber may be the best way to get internet out there because you reach a smaller area of four miles with each tower.”

Clarion County is also eligible for funding related to the loss of the coal industry

“Money is also set aside for coal-impacted communities,” Foys said. “In the late Obama administration, they looked at all of the coal-fired plants that were closing. Whether you were directly or indirectly impacted by the turn in the coal economy, then you were eligible to apply for those dollars. Clarion County was one of those counties, as is all of the eight counties that we serve. That money was available during the last two years of the Obama administration, through the Trump administration, and continues under the Biden administration.

“If you can prove that you’ve been impacted negatively by the turn of coal, then you apply for those dollars once a year. There’s also a set aside of $15 million specifically for broadband projects.

A little more history

“Back in 2009 to 2010 during the Corbett administration, all of us enjoyed our line items. They were zeroed out and lumped together.

“The counties, the local economic development agencies, the LEDs, the small business development centers, Clarion University SBDC, as well as the industrial resource centers – we were lumped together, cut 21.2 percent, and told to coordinate services.

“We just coordinated the two things that the state was looking for and the legislature was to not duplicate services and to have reported more accurately because what was happening was if we funded a project for $200,000.00, we had to create and retain one job for every $25,000.00 that was borrowed. We would send a report that said we created or retained eight jobs.

“The reporting now follows the business and not the service provider. It really gave us an opportunity to be able to convey what it is that we do with taxpayer dollars and do it in a way that makes sense to everybody. We’ve been doing that for 10 years, and it’s been working very well.”

Working Well with Clarion County

“We work well with Clarion County and the Clarion University Small Business Development Center. It gives us an opportunity to work even closer than we did before. We provide transportation planning for five of our eight counties, including Clarion County, which is our only PennDOT District 10 county.

“We also provide services for Warren, Venango, Forest, and Crawford County. Erie County has its own metropolitan planning organization as is Mercer County, and Lawrence County is part of the metropolitan planning organization for the Southwest Commission region, our sister agency based out of Allegheny County. Everything with economic development comes to us, and anything about transportation goes to the Southwest.

“Wayne Brosius represents Clarion County on our transportation advisory committee that oversees the TIP, the transportation improvement projects, in all things transportation funding for those five counties.

“We’ve worked with Clarion County a lot on the co-stars program. Our staff has really become quite educated on that, and they do a lot of training on both sides, whether it’s non-profits or school districts or counties that are able to buy from that or the vendors on the side to get them enrolled, so that they can interact with the rest of us.

“Export marketing is our ability to work with our businesses who want to sell their widgets outside of the country.

“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has what’s called a network of authorized trade reps. At one time when the budgets were good, we probably had 25 or 26 of them. Right now, I think we have 15 of them. They are independent contractors between the Commonwealth and the contractor in those countries.

“So, if you want to sell your widget to Great Britain, the Commonwealth has someone there where you can through us. We can work with the business overseas office that would allow them to do some market research. If you’re coming to the country for a trade show or a trade mission, we can provide country assistance.

“We provide oversight of the Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP) Program.

“Greenways also provides grants at the county level, as well, including grants through DCNR and DEP. And, we provide technical assistance for that. ARC and EDA provide grants to nonprofits and municipalities. A lot of it is infrastructure projects, but we also do some trail projects.

“We do planning and feasibility studies, and some broadband. There’s a lot of different moving parts within EDA and ARC, just economic development administration.

“We just received $3 billion through the latest ARPA money. Those programs just rolled out the money in seven different programs last week. We’re reviewing that and making sure that we provide accurate technical assistance to anyone that’s looking to use those dollars.”

CHIRP Success

Clarion County also called on Northwest to help with the administration of the
COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). The grants were a lifeline to the many hospitality businesses such as restaurants and bars due to mandated closings or restrictions during COVID-19 in 2020.

A total of 22 businesses benefited from CHIRP and the total allocation was $435,363.00.

“Mindy and Jillian were very helpful in the entire process,” Foys said. “Under CHIRP, you could apply up through June 15th, and we had to have that money committed by July 15th. So, what we did with the commissioners and Mindy and Jillian, was after the first round, we prioritized using the state’s system, and we knew that if we got and we had money left over, we would go back and look at some of those businesses.

“Very few businesses got everything that they applied for, but we knew that some got more than others. So, we took $35,000.00 that was leftover and went back and looked at the closing dates for the hotels because they were never required to close. We thought it was important to go back and look at the hotels.

“When Ted and I sat down and (looked) at spreadsheets on how the hotels fared and what their revenue losses and net income losses, it was greater than what was showing up.

“The commissioners thought it was important to really look at the list a second time across the board. We were fortunate to be able to give them an additional $5,000.00 for each of the hotels.”

Commissioners Tharan, Brosius, and Heasley were able to make it official on Tuesday morning, approving $5,000.00 checks for each of the hotels listed below:

1. AILCL Hospitality LLC d/b/a Ramada Inn Clarion
2. Aryan D. Inc. d/b/a Holiday Inn Express
3. Jay Sainath LLC d/b/a Hampton Inn
4. JJT Hospitality Management d/b/a Motel 6
5. Kautilya Clarion Hotel, LLC
6. NPD Enterprise-1, LP DBA Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham
7. Shanchi Inc. d/b/a Quality Inn

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