Christian Savage, left, Vicki Award, Jason Gayne and Sam Hight gather Friday on Water Street in downtown Skowhegan. The four are part of the Community Economic Resource Council that is raising money to provide grants to Somerset County businesses dealing with issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — A group of development leaders is working to provide financial assistance to Somerset County businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses interested in grants of up to $5,000 have until July 31 to submit applications through somersetbusinessresources.org.

The financial assistance need not be repaid and may be used to help with expenses, including payroll, utilities, mortgage or rent payments, insurance, inventory and production.

Christian Savage, executive director of Somerset Economic Development Corp., said the Community Economic Resource Council came together recently to shift its focus to providing assistance for businesses dealing with issues created by the new coronavirus.

By pooling knowledge, resources and experiences, the group began raising funds about two months ago for the Somerset County COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“Our community is fortunate to have multiple economic development agencies that help businesses grow and succeed,” said Sam Hight of Hight Family Dealerships and chairman of Main Street Skowhegan’s business enhancement committee.

“By forming the Community Economic Resource Council, we can now formally work together to create efficiencies, synergies and a network of people and resources to better assist new and growing businesses, especially under current economic conditions.

“It is this spirit of collaboration that will put Skowhegan and greater Somerset County in a position to weather the storms and to thrive and prosper during rising tides.”

The Community Economic Resource Council includes representatives from Somerset Economic Development Corp., Main Street Skowhegan, Skowhegan Economic Development Corp., Skowhegan Regional Chamber of Commerce and the town of Skowhegan.

Donations began with a $25,000 contribution from Somerset Economic Development Corp., which was then matched by the Somerset County Commissioners. The council continues to raise money to offer grants throughout Somerset County, and plans to do so throughout the summer.

The partnership’s aim is to strengthen economic development initiatives, promote Somerset County as the ideal location in rural Maine to start a business and provide a one-stop resource for business owners and new entrepreneurs.

“Our group realized the immediate need for directing businesses to available relief programs, but also wanted to help soften the blow the majority of Somerset County businesses are experiencing,” Savage said.

“The group felt providing grants to businesses was one of the best ways to help offset their loss of revenue and, hopefully, keep businesses open during this incredibly difficult time.”

Savage said the group has worked with many businesses that have reported lost revenue since the pandemic began.

In the first few hours after the grant-application process was launched, he said, 13 businesses had applied with requests to help fund a variety of needs, including new equipment to adjust to the new economic times, payroll and utilities.

“For most small businesses, losing a month of revenue is detrimental,” Savage said. “They have to look at refinancing a home or selling personal assets (to recover). They are very volatile, whereas larger businesses are more consistent with cash flow and revenue.”

The group will continue to look to private or bank foundations, other organizations and the Somerset County Commissioners for funding, Savage said.

“I think Somerset County is lucky because we do have quite a few developmental organizations that work well together,” he said. “This is the first major project that can make a difference and can open up different avenues to collaborate.”

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