Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund Provides Relief

Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund logo

$5-million emergency grant program to help tourism businesses reopen 

Buncombe County is the only county in North Carolina to pass a relief package aimed at supporting its hospitality industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The $5-million emergency grant fund created by the legislation, the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund, offered support to local tourism-related small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigating the new landscape in the wake of COVID-19. The legislation was introduced, and signed into law, in early May 2020.   

The bill paved the way for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (the public authority that oversees Explore Asheville) to establish the fund for emergency grants of up to $50,000. The grants were available for businesses that provide a direct visitor experience. Those businesses include restaurants, retail establishments, studios and galleries, attractions, tours and activities, entertainment and event venues, and breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries, among others. 

Business owners used the grants to restart their operations as restrictions were lifted and recovery began. The money was used to help with rent, payroll, inventory and other expenses associated with reopening. Priority was given to small businesses that are local and independently owned. Lodging properties were not eligible.   

Mountain BizWorks, a local U.S. Treasury-certified nonprofit community-development financial institution (CDFI), administered the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund. Mountain BizWorks has a 30-year history of providing tailored small-business financial services in the Asheville region, and the organization has experience managing several emergency response funds. 

Awards were announced in mid-June 2020. Interested applicants were able to sign up at mountainbizworks.org to learn more about the program, including opportunities for training and technical assistance in applying for grants. 

The recovery fund was established with occupancy-tax revenue collected for the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF), maintaining the purpose of the TPDF while responding to the unique needs of the coronavirus crisis. The Tourism Product Development Fund comes from 25 percent of the occupancy tax paid by people who visit and stay overnight in commercial lodging facilities in Asheville and Buncombe County. 

More information is available here