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Fairfax County aims to assist small businesses struggling with staffing and other needs amid pandemic

Local businesses trying to revive operations could soon get more help as they seek to ward off persistent challenges due to COVID-19.

Fairfax County plans to create a new program called Fairfax Thrive that would use American Rescue Plan Act money to provide technical assistance to small businesses for digital marketing, financial planning, and staff retention, among other areas.

“The majority of our small businesses continue to report negative impacts from the pandemic,”  Economic Development Initiatives Director Rebecca Moudry told the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Initiatives Committee yesterday (Tuesday).

Up to $10,000 in services could be provided for each company, which would allow the program to assist 620 small businesses, according to a staff presentation at the committee meeting. The effort could use $7 million in ARPA funds that the county government received to provide COVID-19 relief.

The county has already devoted millions of dollars in relief funds to support local businesses during the pandemic.

The Fairfax Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) program awarded over $52 million in grants in 2020 to over 4,800 businesses and nonprofits, and the PIVOT Business Recovery Grant Program, which launched last summer, gave over $16 million to over 1,000 businesses, focusing specifically on the hospitality and arts industries.

The Fairfax Thrive program is seeking to reach more businesses than those previous efforts, with a potentially multi-year outreach.

“We’re proposing an expansive program in terms of who’s eligible,” Moudry said.

Eligible businesses could involve sole proprietors, home-based as well as commercial enterprises, and certain nonprofits. They would need to have fewer than 50 full-time workers per location and be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike previous programs that had limited windows to apply, the new program envisions a rolling applications process. 

As the pandemic stretches toward the end of two full years, top needs for small businesses now involve finding and keeping qualified workers, obtaining financial planning assistance or additional capital, and increasing digital marketing or brand development, the county found through a survey.

“At this point, financial assistance is no longer the No. 1 need that businesses require,” Moudry said, noting that cash was the top concern a year ago.

County officials are expected to further tweak the program based on feedback during the committee. The outreach could involve providing seminars or forums to swaths of businesses, such as those looking to hire more staff.

The Board of Supervisors could approve the program this spring, possibly launching it this summer. Supervisors said they would like it to start as soon as possible.

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