A helping hand

Small businesses receive grants from county

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Webster County Supervisor Niki Conrad, right, presented Sandy Hollingsworth, owner of Hollingsworth School of Dance, with a $10,000 Webster County Business Recovery and Continuity Grant on Monday. Hollingsworth's business was one of 31 Webster County small businesses who received the grants.

Erin Nelson experienced firsthand the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when the day care she runs in Fort Dodge started seeing fewer and fewer kids each day, because so many of their parents were working from home in the spring of 2020.

Nelson still kept her day care open, however, for the families who couldn’t work remotely and still needed that child care. Even then, she faced issues with being able to find cleaning and paper supplies for the day care.

Still, Nelson made do because she knows just how hard it is to find child care in Fort Dodge.

“The waiting lists at every day care are so long,” she said.

This last week, Nelson was one of 31 small business owners in Webster County to receive a Webster County Business Recovery and Continuity Grant. Webster County Supervisor Niki Conrad hand delivered the news of the $10,000 grant.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge daycare owner Erin Nelson, left, received a $10,000 Webster County Business Recovery and Continuity Grant from Webster County Supervisor Niki Conrad on Monday.

“Through the American Rescue Plan Act, we were given a certain amount of money in order to help curb the effects of the pandemic,” Conrad said. “A lot of the money has gone to various things that will help in case we have a pandemic in the future, or different areas of the county that have been affected by COVID.”

The Webster County Board of Supervisors set aside $250,000 of the ARPA funds the county received to be used for these grants. They then partnered with the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and the Iowa Central Small Business Development Center to look through the grant applications and make awards ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

“It’s for local small businesses that maybe didn’t get any money through the Cares Act and were really struggling to make ends meet as a result of the pandemic,” Conrad said. “Specifically, we wanted to make sure that they could get some money back into the local economy and to help keep their businesses afloat, and that’s exactly what these grants will be doing.”

Nelson, who has operated day cares for 34 years, already knows how she’s going to use the grant money.

“There’s a lot of things that I’m going to do like finish the day care fencing,” she said. “I’m going to update some toys that probably should have been updated last year, and do paint repairs and just some simple little things to keep it fun and safe for the kids.”

She also plans to stock up on toilet paper and paper plates to be prepared in case there’s a supply shortage again in the future.

Though the county supervisors and County Auditor Doreen Pliner spent the last week surprising grant applicants with their awards, no one was more surprised than Sandy Hollingsworth, co-owner of the Hollingsworth School of Dance and Gymnastics.

Hollingsworth didn’t even know her business was eligible for the grant — she thinks her daughter, Vicky Vinchattle, might have submitted the application.

“I’m amazed, I really am,” Hollingsworth said after Conrad told her that her business is going to receive $10,000.

Some of the grant recipients are still being notified and surprised by the county supervisors, but a full list of the 31 recipients will be released at a later date.

“The supervisors, we’re the ones going out and telling people the good news — we get the fun part of it — but it’s the folks at the Growth Alliance, the Small Business Development Center and folks within the county who have done really the hard work in making sure that we can facilitate these grants,” Conrad said.


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