TUPELO • Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday announced that small business owners can apply for grants from the state starting at noon on Thursday. Business owners wanting to apply for the funds must apply and submit necessary documents on the website backtobusinessms.org.

“We need to always remember: the pandemic was not just a public health emergency. It plunged our country into the greatest job loss since the Great Depression,” Reeves said. “The economic damage – and the human cost of it – has been incalculable. We need to do everything in our power to take care of our neighbors.”

The grant program will be administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, which is the state’s economic development agency. In order to apply for the funds, businesses must have no more than 50 employees, be in good standing with the Secretary of State’s office and one or more controlling interests must be owned by a Mississippi resident.

The funds come in the form of grant money, and they do not have to be repaid to the state.

In May, the Mississippi Legislature appropriated $300 million for small business grants. State lawmakers set aside $60 million in funds to go directly to businesses that were forced to shut down from orders of the state government to slow the spread of the virus. Businesses do not have to apply for these funds.

Of the remaining funds, $40 million has been set aside specifically for minority owned businesses. Another $200 million is set aside for any other small businesses that meets the requirements listed on the website and that have not received any federal Paycheck Protection Program money.

Under the requirements of the Legislature and the MDA, businesses cannot use the grant funds to make up for lost revenue. The money can only go toward additional expenses incurred during an interruption of business during the pandemic.

“If you want to maximize your money, I’d encourage you to go to the website and get familiar with those rules,” Reeves said.

Local groups help

Reeves’ announcement comes as several local groups are joining together to help small business owners in Northeast Mississippi apply for the funds. The city of Tupelo, Lee County, Three Rivers Planning and Development, the CREATE Foundation and the Community Development Foundation are all joining together to help guide small business owners through the application process.

The local groups tentatively plan to host workstations on June 23-25 at the BancorpSouth Arena to provide assistance.

David Rumbarger, the president and CEO of CDF, told the Daily Journal that the idea for the events stemmed from time spent helping businesses acquire federal PPP money.

The organization wanted to bring other groups together to help small businesses.

“Small businesses under 50 employees don’t have a lot of financial advisers on staff,” Rumbarger said.

Rumbarger said he and other CDF employees have been in contact with MDA on what documents businesses will be required to submit to receive grant funds. Nearly all of CDF’s employees will be onsite to provide guidance with the application process, but they are not providing business assistance.

Randy Kelly, the executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development told the Daily Journal that the regional development organization has a history of providing grants and loans to businesses, so the organization is happy to provide assistance to small businesses during this time.

“Businesses are experiencing tough times, and we want to do anything we can to help our small businesses strengthen,” Kelly said. “We are happy to be a partner with the city, CDF and county.”

Both Lee County and Tupelo have agreed to sponsor the event to help offset some of the costs for hosting the event at the arena.

Bill Benson, the Lee County administrator, said that the county is glad to help sponsor the event because this could eventually lead to the local economy rebounding.

“There are a lot of small businesses out there that were impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Benson said. “They may or may not have applied for the PPP loans. And may have only one or two employees.”

Mike Clayborne, the president of the CREATE Foundation, said that the foundation typically does not get involved in business development issues, but this workshop was an area of interest for the foundation because it has the potential to improve the quality of life for a lot of people.

“I think this is a very good initiative, and we’re more than happy to lend our support and network to some of the people that might be affected,” Clayborne said.

CDF and other groups involved will provide more information on the details of the event at a later date.

taylor.vance@journalinc.com

Twitter: @taylor_vance28

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