More than 30 business owners picked up applications for reimbursement of hard costs related to COVID-19 from the Economic Development Commission. Applicants have returned 13; of those, 11 received approval for funding, EDC Director Mickey Fornaro-Dean told board members Thursday.

The process to facilitate the grant applications turned out more difficult and time consuming than she had expected, she said.

“It has been much more in depth and detailed than I think any of us were anticipating,” she said.

The grants became available in mid-October from SPARKS funds, which the state provided to counties to offset COVID-19-related expenses. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees could submit receipts for reimbursement of up to $3,000.

The applications go from the EDC to Witt O’Brien, which is the company the county has contracted with to ensure all expenditures fall within the federal government’s parameters on how recipients may spend the money.

“They are very detailed,” Fornaro-Dean said.

The successful applicants account for $22,000 of the original $50,000 set aside for the grants. When the two outstanding applicants complete the process, she expects that number to be closer to $27,000.

The application deadline is Dec. 10.

County Commissioner Brad Scholz, who has been coordinating the SPARKS funding for the county, said remaining funds will go to Geary County schools because the district ended up with the largest cuts in their funding requests.

“There had to be cuts with $10 million in requests and only $6 million (to distribute),” he said.

Prospects, businesses

Fornaro-Dean also updated board members on prospects and progress of existing businesses. About the time she and the EDC staff were delving into the SPARK grant program, she received notification of what she dubs Project Treehouse.

They had four days to respond to a litany of questions for the company in question to consider Geary County for a multi-million-dollar project. The questionnaire was long and detailed with many questions having several parts.

One example she read out loud covered questions the company had about telecommunications:

Named the telecommunications provider at the site

Provide the telecommunications map of the entire industrial part

Is fiber optic available at the proposed site — please provide map and size and speeds

If not available, what is the distance to bring the service to the industrial park in miles

If not available, what is the cost to bring it to this industrial park

If not available, what is the time to bring it to the industrial park

Based on project description who assumes this cost

How long to build it out

Describe the availability of wireless and digital wireless services in your region in terms of geographic areas covered.

Other questions that required a little research were like how many times weather has caused schools to close in the past 15 years and the interstate in the past five years.

Fornaro-Dean said she hopes to know by the end of this month or the first part of December, if they made it through the first cuts. Whether the company selects Geary County or not, the amount of information the EDC staff gathered in less than a week will aid in the future.

She said the reason she was interested enough to go through the intense four-days of data collection is because of the scope of the project. The company has their plans outlined in five phases worth a total $737 million investment; after the first five years — 1,120 jobs on a 200-plus acre with 1.1 million square feet under roof, she said.

She also gave an update on Camso, which is now a Michelin-branded firm.

“They currently are running three shifts 24/5 operation with occasional Saturdays,” she said. “They have a total of 52 employees right now which is about 11 to 12 over where they were supposed to be on performance measures for a total of 2.27 5 million in payroll.”

She gave some background information on Michelin saying it is a 131-year-old company with 121,800 employees worldwide. They are one of the top 10 largest firms in the world and its revenue in 2019 was $24.13 billion.

“They are regarded by Forbes magazine as the number two regarded company in the world as far as for people to work for — how they do their policies,” she said.

Fornaro-Dean said she has communicated with several other prospective businesses in various stages of interest including one that she spent the previous day escorting two principals from the code-named Project Rug around Geary County.

“We drove more miles in this community than I think I’ve driven in ages,” she said. “The meeting went very, very well. We are one of … the sites they are most interested in.”

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