The Lacey City Council on Thursday approved spending $70,000 to help support the Thurston Economic Development Council, an organization that has been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering assistance to business owners or pointing them in the right direction for more help.
The city of Lacey and the EDC teamed up in late March to disperse $1 million in grant funds to small, Lacey businesses.
But the slower economy also has been felt by the EDC itself, Executive Director Michael Cade said. By this time each year, the EDC has typically raised about $250,000 through memberships to the organization.
The EDC has other sources of revenue, such as contracts and program fees, but private investment has fallen to $200, Cade said.
“The well has run dry,” he said to a reporter after the meeting.
That was just one part of a Cade discussion about the local economy with the council, which included both hopeful and disconcerting statistics.
The good news is that the city’s $1 million grant fund helped 110 Lacey businesses, according to city data. The average grant size was a little over $9,000 and the average number of employees per business was just under five, the data show.
Since March, the EDC has heard from about 6,500 businesses, either by phone or email, needing assistance during the pandemic, Cade said after the meeting.
There was also the reality of what the pandemic has done to the economy.
“Businesses are absolutely being hammered right now,” he said, adding that 15-45 percent of those who have lost a job won’t have that job back within the next year.
He also raised concerns about the state of childcare, citing statistics from the Child Care Action Council.
Cade said that 50 percent of all childcare spots in the county are gone because of the pandemic, and that shortage becomes more exacerbated if school doesn’t start in the fall.
“This is one of the things that keeps me up at night,” he said. “Childcare is in crisis as we move through the (reopening) phases.”
The state of childcare either needs to be fixed legislatively or financially, but something needs to be done, Cade said.
As for the $70,000, Cade said the EDC can use the money to leverage grants, make community investments and help its partner agencies.
The city will front the money to the EDC, but expects to be reimbursed via the federal funding legislation known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, City Manager Scott Spence said.
During the meeting, Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder urged the council to shop local.
“Small businesses are still really hurting,” he said.