UPDATE! Administered by Mountain BizWorks on behalf of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, the APPLICATION PERIOD FOR THE BUNCOMBE COUNTY TOURISM JOBS RECOVERY FUND HAS NOW CLOSED.
How did the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund come about?
Early in the crisis, the Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association developed a proposal to reopen tourism businesses and put people back to work. The members of the association developed and supported the proposal and worked with Senator Edwards and the Buncombe County delegation to craft legislation that would enable the creation of a program funded with occupancy tax revenue collected for tourism product development.
On April 24, 2020, Senator Chuck Edwards, along with Buncombe County Commissioner and Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Board Member Joe Belcher and Buncombe County TDA Board Chair Gary Froeba, announced a collaborative effort to jump-start the county’s tourism sector and restore critical jobs impacted by COVID-19. Senator Edwards submitted legislation titled “Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Act,” which passed in the North Carolina General Assembly with support from other members of the Buncombe County delegation.
On May 4, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper signed the legislation into law, which allows the Buncombe County TDA to establish the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund using $5 million currently remaining in the Tourism Product Development Fund. Buncombe County businesses and nonprofits that provide a direct visitor experience can apply for emergency grants to help with restarting their operations affected by the coronavirus pandemic .
How does the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund work?
Buncombe County businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide a direct visitor experience can apply for a grant of up to $50,000 directed toward the restart of their business once the recovery begins, and it is safe to operate or resume full operations. Grants can be used for payroll, inventory, and other expenses associated with reopening businesses and hiring employees.
The COVID-19 relief fund is administered by Mountain BizWorks, a local U.S. Treasury-certified nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) with a 30-year history of providing tailored small business financial services in Asheville and the region, and experience managing several emergency response funds.
Who is eligible to receive funding?
Businesses that will qualify are those that employ two to 200 people and provide a direct experience for visitors, including restaurants, retail, studios and galleries, attractions, tours and activities, breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, entertainment and event venues, and numerous other categories. Preference will be given to small businesses that are local and independently owned. Lodging properties are not eligible. Read eligibility requirements here.
Why aren’t lodging properties eligible for funding? Many are small businesses like bed and breakfast inns.
The Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Act, authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper, was developed to provide critically needed funding to reopen local businesses that attract and serve visitors. The legislation allows the use of occupancy tax revenue that has already been collected for the tourism product development fund. Providing funding for lodging is not consistent with the goals of that fund, despite the desperate need for revenue, despite the desperate need for revenue that is prevalent among all lodging types, whether it is the iconic Grove Park Inn, a family-owned limited service hotel, a bed and breakfast, or a short-term vacation rental.
When can tourism-related businesses apply for funding?
The application period is May 15, 2020 through May 31, 2020. All applications received during that period will be considered — that is, it is not a “first come, first served” opportunity. >> Go here to apply.
How will applications be evaluated?
In addition to proving eligibility, applicants will be evaluated by the Mountain BizWorks team on their ability to demonstrate tourism impact, reopening safely and sustainably, level of financial loss, job recovery and retention, and locally owned and independent. >> Download the evaluation information document here.
Does this mean that the Tourism Product Development Fund will not be able to fund the projects that have been committed?
Funding for Tourism Product Development grants that have already been awarded is held in an escrow account dedicated to each of those projects. The Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund appropriates $5 million in revenue that has been collected but not awarded. Funds collected moving forward will be available to fund additional TPDF grants.
Why couldn’t more of the occupancy tax be used for this recovery fund?
As noted above, the legislation is appropriating occupancy tax revenue that has already been collected and must be spent as legislated, which is tourism product development. Twenty-five percent of occupancy tax collections are dedicated to this purpose. The 75% of the occupancy tax collected for the purpose of promoting Asheville and Buncombe County to outside markets could not be used in an emergency fund because such a fund is not consistent with the purpose for which those tax dollars were collected. Further promotion funds will be a critical resource for attracting customers back to our local businesses at the appropriate time.
Where can I get more information on the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund?
Mountain BizWorks, administrator of the fund, has established an information page where questions can be submitted. >> Go here to submit questions.