Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund Provides Relief
$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, offers 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 are available for businesses that provide a direct visitor experience. Those businesses can 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 can use the grants to restart their operations as restrictions are lifted and recovery begins. The money is to be used to help with rent, payroll, inventory and other expenses associated with reopening. Priority will be given to small businesses that are local and independently owned. Lodging properties are not eligible.
Mountain BizWorks, a local U.S. Treasury-certified nonprofit community-development financial institution (CDFI), is administering 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 will be announced in mid-June. The online application portal was open May 15 through May 31. 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 is 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.