Meet Our Heroes

City of La Quinta

Empowering a tourism-focused business community to stand up to COVID-19

The City of La Quinta is a unique city nestled in the Coachella Valley that’s family and business-friendly. The city supports about 550 brick and mortar businesses and roughly 1,500 online or virtual businesses. Most of them operate in the tourism and hospitality industries, making them the primary economic drivers.

La Quinta is a tourist destination drawing in visitors with its hiking trails, scenic views, and the city’s charm. They receive visitors from in and out of state, including the snowbirds from Canada and Europe who visit in winter to escape the cold. They’re liable to receive 1,000 visitors at any given time, but during their peak season the city typically welcomes upwards of 6,000 tourists.

This steady flow of vacationers keeps La Quinta’s businesses thriving, but when a new virus began to spread in early 2020, that flow would stop. Potential visitors became hesitant to travel, and shortly after that, travel would become temporarily restricted altogether.

Launching programs to support businesses

Once the pandemic started in 2020, La Quinta’s City Manager’s Office began to hear about the possibility of a shutdown. To get a sense of how the business community was feeling, they reached out to the City Council and were informed that they were scared.

Most businesses weren’t equipped to survive a shutdown. Without customers they would not earn the revenue needed to pay their rent, bills, or employee wages. To their dismay, the state of California would go into a full shutdown by the third week of March.

The City’s management team’s initial plan started with a zero percent interest loan program. This helped the business community weather the first shutdown. However, shortly after businesses reopened, another shutdown ensued in May of 2020. This time, the City offered reimbursement and grant programs targeting the industries most in need–particularly those in the tourism and hospitality industries but also those that provided hands-on services such as nail and hair salons, as these industries did not yet have a way to safely serve customers.

Grants were a viable solution because they did not have to be paid back and they provided enough financial support to keep businesses afloat. Grant funds could be used for reimbursement for COVID-19 safety supplies, such as hand sanitizer, social distancing signage, masks, etc. They also offered grants to help businesses to adjust their business model or alter a physical structure to enable them to sustain themselves through the pandemic. For example, some businesses purchased a delivery vehicle, others added a take-out window, and others expanded their outdoor space.

Doing more with the right technology

Kinley recognized from the very beginning that they would need a technology platform to manage their relief programs. He says, “Our City Manager’s Office is small in comparison to others, so making this happen with a limited staff wasn’t going to be plausible. So, we started looking for an intelligent solution in software.”

After reaching out to a few companies, Kinley explains, “We decided to go with WizeHive’s Zengine, because it had everything we needed. I hate using the word robust, but that’s what the platform really is. We needed something to process applications and upload documents. Especially uploading documents, that was our biggest hurdle. So, it had to be something completely cloud-based and WizeHive really delivered on that.”

The City was also concerned, as all government agencies are, about privacy and security. In La Quinta’s grant process, documents containing sensitive information are shared with external committee members for review. Because ZengineTM gives Kinley the ability to redact personal information from the documents and applications, he can ensure that reviewers only see what they need to see to make a determination on the application. Additionally, Zengine’s SOC 2 Type 2 Certification provided peace of mind that security protocols were being met.

Another platform feature Kinley appreciates is the ease with which he and his team can communicate with applicants using reminders, notifications, and emails. What’s more, the system stores all of the information collected from the application process through to the review and awarding stages, so they can access the data and generate a variety of reports instantly and in real-time.

Something Kinley valued in particular was how he could use data and reporting to demonstrate the equity with which grants were awarded. When questions arose that implied perhaps certain business districts were favored, Kinley’s team was able to leverage the heat map feature to demonstrate where applications were submitted from, who was approved, and where the funds went.

Since the program began, they’ve processed more than 3,000 applications using Zengine and couldn’t imagine doing it manually. Kinley states, “Many cities and counties really do think they can do it with Excel… that they can do it with a folder structure… you can’t!”

Ensuring stability and sustainability

Between April 2020 and December 2021, the City of La Quinta administered seven rounds of relief, awarding more than 260 grants and processing over fifty loans. They provided $1.8 million in funding to support the community. In November 2021, the city mayor reported businesses thriving at close to pre-pandemic levels and attributes that to their relief programs.

It is obvious that La Quinta’s grant programs benefited the business community in a significant way, and they’re proud to say that to date no business has closed as a result of the pandemic. Getting businesses to this point is certainly something to celebrate, but the City and the business community also want to use what they’ve learned from the pandemic to be better prepared for the next crisis. The City Manager’s Office continues to assess how best to support businesses in implementing innovations that will not only sustain them through the current pandemic, but prepare them for any future, unanticipated crisis.

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