Reports & Toolkits

County Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Small Business Support

  • County Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Small Business Support

Small businesses represent 99 percent of all businesses across the nation and half of all private-sector employment.[i]  Local small businesses recirculate dollars back into local economies, contribute to county tax revenue and represent a vital component of community identity. Simply put, small business is the lifeblood of county economies across the nation. The COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing social distance and business restrictions have put the small business community in a dire situation.

Counties across the country have acted swiftly and creatively to support small businesses with needed cashflow and practical guidance. 

County Small Business Relief & Stabilization Funds

Social distance practices and business restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in widespread revenue and job loss affecting small businesses. To provide these businesses with immediate cashflow relief through this pandemic, counties across the nation have created loan and grant fund programs to quickly disperse emergency relief dollars to stabilize local business and support essential operational costs such as rent, utilities and payroll. To date, counties have seeded over $140 Million in loan and grant funds, while leveraging additional partner funds for a total of over $160 Million to support small business.

Cook County, Ill.

Cook County seeded an initial $10 million to create the Cook County Community Recovery Initiative, which includes emergency relief fund for small businesses and independent contract and gig economy workers, particularly targeting workers and businesses owned by women and people of color. This fund offers one-time, zero-interest loans up to $20,000 for small businesses with 25 employees or less and $10,000 for contract workers receiving at least half their income from 1099 contract work. 

“Unprecedented problems call for unprecedented solutions” – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Buncombe County, N.C.

Buncombe County formed a partnership with the City of Asheville, the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, the Land of Sky Regional Council and Mountain BizWorks to launch the One Buncombe Fund, a COVID-19 relief and donation center. In addition to economic support to unemployed individuals, the One Buncombe Fund provides low-interest loans up to $10,000 for locally-owned small businesses with no payments due for six months. The loans are designed to support local businesses with needed ‘bridge funding’ to help businesses stay open and limit job losses. In addition to the funding from core partner organizations, the One Buncombe Fund site allows for donation support from community members to raise additional funds for this initiative.

Crook County, Ore.

Crook County (pop. 20,978) formed their COVID-19 Business Assistance Task Force to help local businesses deal with impacts affecting daily operations. In addition to technical assistance with federal and regional assistance opportunities, local businesses can also apply for up to $2,500 in grant funds to assist with operational costs, such as rent, mortgage, utilities. Grants will be distributed in partnership with the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce and eligible businesses must have 35 full-time employees or less and have a physical presence located in the county.

Local Business Promotion and Resource Clearinghouse

In addition to seeding local loan funds, counties are launching creative promotional initiatives to rally communities and drive expenditures to local business. County governments and staff are also serving as one-stop, comprehensive information and resource-sharing clearinghouses. Providing technical assistance and guidance through webpages, newsletters, and webinars, counties are able to educate small business owners and assist in applying for federal, state, and philanthropic resource opportunities. 

Giles County, Va.

To provide immediate support to local restaurants, lodging and other hospitality businesses, rural Giles County created a centralized gift card program to promote local businesses and quickly generate needed revenue. Gift cards for local businesses can be purchased online through the county and customers will receive 50% increased value when redeemed, subsidized directly by local meals tax and other tourism-related tax revenues. 100% of the funds raised are sent directly to local businesses across the county.

Dane County, Wisc.

Dane County partnered with local Buy Dane Local initiative to support local business impacted by COVID-19. In addition to grant funds, Buy Dane Local hosts a weekly webinar series providing technical assistance and critical information and resources for local business owners. To further promote local business, the #DaneCountyCurbsideChallenge was also created to drive takeout business to local restaurants. County residents are encouraged to post and hashtag their takeout photos to enter a monthly drawing for local restaurant gift cards.

Tioga County, Pa.

Through its economic development organization—Develop Tioga—Tioga County has created a comprehensive information and resource-sharing initiative and webpage focused on small business support. Local business surveys, categorized resources, weekly newsletter e-blasts, and dedicated staff time overviewing federal, state and other resource opportunities are examples of the direct technical assistance and guidance provided to small businesses.  Develop Tioga provides targeted sector resources tailored for Tioga County, such as resources for dairy farmers.

COVID-19 has had a devasting impact on the small businesses, as millions of businesses find themselves at risk of permanent closure and millions of Americans face unemployment.[ii] Counties are answering the call to directly assist their local business community and rally residents in support of these staples of county economies and community identity.

[i] United States Small Business Administration (SBA).

[ii] The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses.  The National Main Street Center.


About Ashleigh Holand (Full Bio)

Director of Programs and Practices

Ashleigh Holand is the Director of Programs and Practices for the NACo County Innovations Lab. She oversees the organization’s grant-funded programs that help counties across the country improve community outcomes on key local issues including early childhood development, public health, criminal justice, economic mobility and resilience.

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