Published in Economic Development
Lakeshore Advantage seeks proposals for spending federal pandemic relief on business stabilization COURTESY PHOTO

Lakeshore Advantage seeks proposals for spending federal pandemic relief on business stabilization

BY Wednesday, August 24, 2022 03:06pm

Economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage Corp. is seeking proposals for using a portion of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to support local businesses.

Ottawa County — which received $56.7 million in ARPA funding — has prioritized business stabilization, along with affordable housing and expanding broadband internet service, as potential uses for the pandemic-relief funding.

Lakeshore Advantage is managing the business stabilization portion of the county’s process to determine how to use the ARPA funding, with a focus on workforce development and accessing technology. Letters of intent to Lakeshore Advantage from organizations wanting to tap the ARPA funding for a project are due by 8 a.m. Sept. 22.

“The business stabilization funding is critical to support our local businesses as we continue to emerge from the pandemic,” Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens said in a statement. “The funding priorities that we established, workforce development and access to technology, target two issues that will keep Ottawa County businesses competitive today and in the future. We are eager to see the transformational programs and partnerships that will result from this investment in our local community and economy.”

Projects recommended by Lakeshore Advantage will go to the Ottawa County ARPA Task Force, which will select proposals that will go to the Board of Commissioners for final funding decisions.

A survey that Ottawa County recently conducted drew nearly 2,300 responses from residents that ranked affordable housing as the top priority for the ARPA money, followed by social and human services needs, expanding broadband coverage, and business stabilization.

Ottawa County commissioners on Tuesday began steering the first funds, approving funding for two affordable housing projects. That included $2 million to provide gap financing for a $14.3 million project in Holland that will include 46 apartments all priced for people who earn at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Nonprofit housing organization Dwelling Place is partnering with First United Methodist Church and Hope Church on the downtown development.

Another $1.5 million will support financing a $15.1 million development in Spring Lake by Samaritas Affordable Living of Spring Lake. The project includes 43 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom housing units serving families, couples and seniors with rents available for people who earn 30 percent to 70 percent of the area median income.

The nonprofit organizations behind both projects will seek financing from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Ottawa County commissioners also approved using nearly $47,000 in ARPA funds to hire GrayBar Inc. to do “middle mile” pre-engineering design work for extending broadband service. The work will analyze the cost to build the needed infrastructure for a network that private-sector internet service providers can use to extend broadband service where it’s lacking.

The work is “another step in our thoughtful, systematic process of determining how we can best address the unacceptable gaps in broadband access across the county,” said Paul Sachs, director of Ottawa County’s Planning and Performance improvement Department. “Our rural areas are certainly challenged with residents there and our agricultural producers not having broadband access. I field calls non-stop, continuously about this.”

About a dozen ISPs have expressed interest in working with Ottawa County on a public-private broadband project that would make extending service in low-density areas financially viable, Sachs said.

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