Lakeshore Advantage sought proposals to spend federal pandemic relief on business stabilization

Economic Development Organization Lakeshore Advantage Corp. Seeking proposals to use a portion of federal America’s Rescue Plan Act funds 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 of the epidemic-relief funds.

Lakeshore Advantage is managing the business sustainability portion of the county’s process for determining how to use ARPA funding, focusing on workforce development and access to technology. Letters of intent from organizations interested in using ARPA funding for the project are due to Lakeshore Advantage by 8 a.m. Sept. 22.

“The Business Stabilization Fund is critical to supporting our local businesses as we emerge from the pandemic,” Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens said in a statement. “The funding priorities we have established, workforce development and access to technology, target two issues that will keep Ottawa County businesses competitive today and into the future. We look forward to seeing the transformational programs and partnerships that result from this investment in our local communities 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 recent survey by Ottawa County received nearly 2,300 responses from residents who ranked affordable housing as the top priority for ARPA money, followed by social and human service needs, expanded broadband coverage, and business stability.

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

Another $1.5 million will help finance a $15.1 million development in Spring Lake by Samaritas Affordable Living of Spring Lake. The project has 43 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom housing units available for rent, serving families, couples and senior citizens earning 30 percent to 70 percent of the area median income.

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

Ottawa County commissioners also approved using about $47,000 in ARPA funds to hire Graybar Inc. to do “middle mile” pre-engineering design work for broadband service expansion. This work will analyze the costs of building the infrastructure needed for a network that can be used by private sector Internet service providers to extend broadband service to areas where it is lacking.

“This is the next step in our thoughtful, systematic process to determine how we can best address unacceptable gaps in broadband access across the county,” said Paul Sachs, director of Ottawa County’s Department of Planning and Performance Improvement. “Our rural areas are certainly challenged by residents and our agricultural producers not having broadband access. I make non-stop field calls about this.

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

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