FULTON – For a city whose slogan was mocked into oblivion, one word has made all the difference, and Wednesday, Sept. 8, that word beamed prophetic. The old ‘City With A Future’ now under Mayor Deana Michaels, may well become ‘The City With A Bright Future’ heralded upon the city’s website with Michael’s unveiling of a $400,000 economic development grant available to businesses hurt by COVID.

“We come together today in support of small businesses,” Michaels said to an audience gathered before her and the Common Council and Community Development Agency beside her in the Community Room of Fulton’s Municipal Building. “COVID-19 has significantly impacted our community and continues to have an impact. Our small businesses, the heartbeat of our community, have paid a significant price. I have had the fortunate opportunity in my career to work with many small business owners. They have passion, drive, community pride and are often the first to give back to the community. We recognize the impact these past few years have had and we understand as a city our role to support the recovery and revitalization efforts for small businesses owners. As we visit with business owners we are learning what is needed and how we can come together to help. The voice of the small business owners is being heard and it is now our time to give back to them.

“With that we are excited to announce our commitment of American Relief Funds in the amount of $400K to support our small business community,” Michaels continued. “Thank you to the council for their vision and support in making this happen and to the Fulton CDA for being a partner in support of small businesses. To kick off this opportunity we have committed the first $100k of this funding and established a COVID Recovery and Revitalization Grant program. Small business owners are encouraged to apply and will have until Sept. 27 to submit an application. Applications will be available through the Fulton CDA both electronically and hard copy and also on the City and CDA website.

“This COVID-relief commitment of $100k is only just the beginning,” Michaels emphasized. “We will be creating additional grant opportunities from this money to support esthetic upgrades such as facade, signage and awnings, new business expansion and growth and start-up seed money for new businesses. In addition we plan to have the $750K Downtown Revitalization grant fund in place before the end of 2021.

“Finally,” she said, “we announce today our commitment of $45k to help not-for-profits impacted by COVID. These organizations improve the quality of life for our residents and provide vital services essential to our success. The City recognizes this and is here to help. The Council and myself have spent a great deal of time reviewing all areas and in the near future will be contacting the groups that will be receiving support.

“Things are happening, Fulton is growing, and we are committed to help move us forward.

“Thank you to all our small businesses for hanging in there, being resilient and believing in Fulton. Thank you to the not-for-profits for continuing to give when it was most difficult to do and thank you to all who joined us today for this exciting announcement. Together we move Fulton forward.”

Following her speech, Michaels, along with Brad Broadwell, executive director of the Fulton Community Development Agency, took questions from the audience and media. Here is some of that.

On a question on obtaining applications for the grant, Michaels reiterated that not only will they be available in electronic and hard copy versions as stated in her speech, but that applicants may also “reach out via phone, 315-593-7754 or 315-593-7166. Amanda Rice (arice@fultoncda.com) will be helping to oversee that program.”

Broadwell added: “The application is presently posted at the Fulton CDA website (www.fultoncda.com). We will help the city post it to their website (https://www.fultonny.org/news/pratt-house-museum-99f5d). We will be faxing and call small businesses. We’re going to be very proactive.”

On how all this is coming together, Michaels said, “We have a lot of moving parts right now. These monies we’ve allocated are from the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars from the federal government. Then we have the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a $10 million state grant). That’s $750,000 specifically for downtown revitalization and businesses within that zone. The Fulton CDA also applied for a micro-grant for micro-enterprises, micro-businesses in the community, and we needed to put out a survey and get so many participants in that survey so that we could apply. So for application purposes, we needed that support, and we have received quite a bit of support. But that’s just another initiative that we’re adding to this. We want to have many resources available. this is something very new for the city of Fulton, meaning we haven’t really had a strong, or, if at all, an economic development initiative for the present, and it’s time we get there. And we’re building it from the ground up. We know there’s a lot of moving parts, and we’re excited about that, but at the same time, if we can provide clarification on those economic development opportunities, we’re happy to do so.”

The state DRI grant only targets Fulton’s east side. Broadwell addressed that.

“The mayor said something needs to be done for the west side businesses or other businesses that aren’t incorporated in the DRI,” he said. “So, part of our plan was to go for a CBDG (Community Development Block Grant). Let’s request $200,000 from the federal government, let’s request a quarter-of-a-million dollars from the federal government, and set up a loan fund for those that can’t participate in the DRI.”

Michaels spoke on input from the community in general and professionals in specific.

“We took our time, were very deliberate on how we wanted to use these dollars,” she said. “What we’ve been doing is working with consultants, grant writers, and Brad’s team to discuss what is the need of the community? What’s the community saying? There are other businesses outside the immediate downtown we’ve got to take into consideration and that’s why we’re going to look at opportunities beyond just the COVID relief.”

She spoke of the advantage of passing Fulton’s comprehensive plan. “It helps us to deliver other grant-funding opportunities,” she noted, “because now we have that guiding document. It helps us to structure these other grants to speak to that new direction that we’re moving in.”

On the use of the ARPA money:

“Right now,” Michaels said, “what we’ve looked at is pretty straight-forward. We have small business economic development, tourism, we have broadband, we’re looking at not-for-profit support, we’re also looking at parks and recreation as that contributes to tourism and economic development and bringing visitors into town. And then, we also have infrastructure. We plan to put a significant amount of money toward infrastructure and leverage that against some other money we have that was allocated to our city through the New York state budget this year. The governor put some money in there, and we’re still trying to understand the full capacity of it and how we can use that. So, infrastructure’s going to be a big push. So, you’ll see a lot of work there. What that looks like, we’re still trying to define that. We’re being very deliberate in our approach. We’re not jumping to any quick decision. We knew that we had to inject this money into the community relatively quickly for small businesses. That was very important. Small businesses need that sooner rather than later. But, we’re going to take our time when it comes to the infrastructure piece of it. Make sure we plan it out and get the best bang for our buck. So, that’s what we’re trying to do, how we can get the most bang for this and have it stretch farther while we’re also looking at other grant opportunities that are out there.”

Broadwell added, “I think what you want to keep in mind is it’s not the number of projects that we do, it’s how important that project is that we do to the future growth of Fulton.”

Michaels then hinted at some future announcements.

“Within the last few weeks to a month,” she said, “we have had quite a bit of interest in the city of Fulton, and we have businesses that are coming to town. We’ll soon be able to announce that. We have some larger businesses that are inquiring. This week alone, I had five different discussions regarding economic development and new business coming into town for expansion. So, I’m excited about that. We’re taking that step by step and working with them to make sure that it’s a great fit for Fulton. We don’t want to say yes just for the sake of saying yes. We want to make sure it’s a great fit for everyone involved. So, I believe in the near future we’re going to be able to make some announcements about some new businesses that are coming to town where they’re looking to expand their presence here in Fulton.”

As the questions came to an end, Michaels closed the session with “We’re excited about the direction we’re going. We’re very excited about some future announcements we’re going to be making. Thank you all for being here, and let’s support local and support our small businesses.”

Following group photos holding the traditional huge check, I asked Michaels and Broadwell a little more about the grant.

Many state COVID-related grants provide money only to businesses that are still in business and operating. What about businesses that closed due to COVID and new businesses? Will Fulton’s grant be available to them?

Michaels responded, “I think, A, we want to make sure that there’s a viable path forward, so I think we’ll look at that. We currently have our current grant structure application very specific for qualifications, but as we continue to develop additional applications, we’re going to take all of it into consideration and adapt it for what makes the most sense for the business community. So, we’ll take all of it into consideration, but we want to make sure it’s a very viable solution going forward. We certainly, definitely, are going to look at new business, either expansion of existing, or bringing in new business to the community, absolutely.”

Broadwell added, “I’d say we would consider all of that. Everything is a special set of circumstances. There were all sorts of businesses that fell through the cracks. We will consider that when we get that application and then try to acknowledge if they have a future, or if it’s just trying to recoup that money. It may be, in fact, that they owe local purveyors money. Maybe we might want to consider that those are businesses that they may owe money. We have to really take a look at it.”

Michaels continued, “You know, it’s interesting when we talk to some of the businesses and they’ll say, ‘Really, I’d be okay, but I’m behind on my utility bill.’ And so on and so forth. And we realized that sometimes the support is helping them just at that level and saying, ‘Listen, I can do okay, business is doing okay except I’m in arrears on some of my utilities, and I just need some help there.’ And that little bit of boost can make all the difference in the world.

“We’ve only structured one grant program at this point,” she continued, “and that’s the COVID-relief grant fund. That one doesn’t specifically address those who have gone out of business, but future grant applications will take all of that into consideration. This is the immediate injection of that money into the community to help those impacted by COVID who are still in operation, but as we go forward, we’ll take a look at all the others.”

Broadwell added, “Some people’s capital needs are great in the short term. We’re trying to interject and help those capital needs in the short term.”

On whether there’s enough money to meet the demand and on plans for making this grant sustainable, Michaels said, “The demand is always going to be more than the resources available, so, that’s why I talk about leveraging all of these opportunities, not just coming out and saying, ‘Hey, $400,000 is available right now.’ We’ve got take this in steps so that as we’re taking it in steps, other monies might becoming available. When that other money becomes available, when we’re looking at leveraging it against other funding sources, now we’’re building our resources as we go. We don’t want to deplete the resources right out of the gate. Let’s use this and use it very deliberately and be very purposeful on how we manage that so we can essentially affect more of the community and have more of an impact throughout the community as opposed to just a quick injection. That quick injection’s good, but we have a lot of other opportunities out there to consider.

“Our job here is to create a sustainable program going forward,” Michaels concluded. “If we’re going to be a viable economic development community and have a strong economic development agency, we have to do something that sustains us for years to come, so that the community can be supported for years to come. We have to be able to keep these initiatives going so that Fulton doesn’t fall short like we’ve seen over the past 10, 15, 20 years. This is how we continue moving us forward.”

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