We were thrilled to moderate another dynamic discussion with Doug Kinley III, Management Specialist, City of La Quinta, CA, and Colleen Kardasz, Assistant Director, Loudoun County, VA.
In our recent webinar with the International City & County Management Association (ICMA), our clients in economic development roles in Loudoun County and the City of La Quinta shared their experiences navigating relief and recovery grant programs during the pandemic.
Scroll down to access the full webinar recording.
Here are our 5 key takeaways to give you a sense of the wisdom they shared:
1. Build Relationships in the Community
Both speakers made it very clear that their relationships with the community were key during the pandemic and throughout. Building and maintaining relationships is how they kept a pulse on what their business community needed for relief, recovery, and future preparedness.
They reached out to business owners through newsletters and emails. However, to really make a personal connection they realized that they and their teams needed to pick up the phone. Even though it took more effort, it also enabled them to make better connections. They really listened to what was happening to their businesses and employees, so they could help them find the resources they needed.
2. Get Prepared for the Next Crisis
The City of La Quinta and Loudoun County’s economic development programs are transitioning from relief to recovery and now focusing on sustainable options with the intention of being more prepared for the next crisis.
For example, Loudoun County just launched a grant program to invest money back into businesses for things that address challenges created by the pandemic that will likely remain a challenge into the future. For example, the funds could be used to buy a delivery vehicle, software to help with supply chain issues or add a takeout window.
La Quinta has a similar grant program to help grantees adjust their business and business models to be more sustainable, such as learning to operate on a leaner budget, adding a new service/product to offer, or changing their spaces to allow for more social distancing and outdoor experiences.
3. Gather the Right Data
The data you collect can help you see the impact of your grant program on the community as well as where additional needs or issues may exist.
Loudoun County, for example, gathered data to compare the current and previous inflation rates to check for price-gouging. They also compared unemployment rates to gauge the health of the labor market for businesses in their community. If unemployment is rising, it may indicate that businesses are not able to pay wages or may not have work available.
Because they had gathered valuable data during the application rounds of their grant programs, Loudoun County was able to take a step back and look at the impact of what they were doing. They also identified needs that were outside of the grant program and identified ways to provide ongoing small business support.
The need warranted Colleen to ask the Board to increase funding in their entrepreneurship and small business programs and to add a Minority Business Specialist to their department. She says, “we’re using exactly what we learned and gathered to implement this. And the great thing is we have the data to show the Board why we need it.”
4. Things May Not Be Perfect and That’s Okay
Making sure your grant program runs smoothly may not happen at first. Loudoun County is a prime example. They had to respond quickly at the beginning of the pandemic so initially launched their COVID relief grant manually. This required more than 90 staff members and volunteers to use spreadsheets to keep track of documents and applications.
The task quickly became unwieldy and she realized they needed to find technology that could make the workload more manageable. So they decided to make the change and invest in a government grant management system with their next round of funding.
Loudoun’s situation wasn’t perfect, but they still launched their program and made adjustments when they saw a need. And their process continued to improve. In the webinar, Colleen said, “Now, we’re running a $4.9 million grant with just three people.”
5. Using the Right Technology is Critical
Both speakers touted the value of using the ZengineTM Grants Management System to support their programs. Doug really appreciates the system’s live analytics that enables him to back up the grant decisions. If community leaders question why one business got funding and not another, Doug explains, “I can show them X amount of people applied, how they scored, and why they were turned away.”
For Loudoun County, which began their grant program by hand, implementing Zengine made their process significantly less labor-intensive. Colleen said, “Once we onboarded Zengine, we were able to set up a process that we can replicate over and over again.”