Our guest blogger, Todd Wolford (pictured left), serves as the Executive Director of Wytheville’s local Advancing Virginia Main Street (AVMS) program, Downtown Wytheville, Inc. (DWI). Wolford possesses a strong passion for public service and working with people to achieve positive results, and that’s why he’s excited to discuss how DWI led the effort to infuse $800,000 into Wythe County businesses through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
We all have had to pivot and respond to the ever-changing public health emergency, sometimes on a weekly basis. Businesses are struggling, and organizations, such as Main Street programs that service local businesses, have also been affected. At the onset of the pandemic, we had no choice but to react and respond in a professional and responsible manner, which focused on supporting our local businesses and educating our community on how to do so safely.
As we transitioned and pivoted our mission to sustainably create opportunities and positively impact our local business community through our “support local safely campaign,” DWI learned that the state of Virginia was seeking to allocate CDBG funding for local communities to utilize for rent, mortgage and supplies lost and/or affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Afterwards, my colleague and I spoke to Doug Jackson and Matt Weaver at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) about the program and how we could obtain CDBG funding in Wytheville. We came to the realization that, as an organization, we couldn’t solely serve our downtown businesses through this opportunity because a much broader reach was needed to impact the entire community and all of Wythe County. An effort similar to when we created our low-interest loan program and solicited local partners to match funding to generate a far larger pool of funding would be required of DWI and other community leaders.
DWI facilitated initial calls and worked diligently with local elected officials to promote the benefits of the CDBG program and explain why the community needed to seek CDBG funding. As a result, the town of Wytheville agreed to serve as the fiscal agent for the application and allow DWI to administer the CDBG grant. Approximately two months later, we were awarded $800,000 to implement a small business relief program! To streamline the application process, we formed a team that consisted of the local Chamber of Commerce, Joint Industrial Development Authority and Wytheville tourism representatives to build the program and review applications. Having multiple partners working together through a cloud based spreadsheet allowed us to more thoroughly examine the required documents submitted with each application.
After bolstering awareness of the program, applications began to be submitted very quickly, and we realized that administering a grant of this magnitude was going to be a full-time job, and that was perfectly fine! It was merely another phase of the pivot and one that directly impacted and saved local businesses in our community. I can’t tell you the number of business owners who have told me that the program literally kept them from closing. During this challenging time, we don’t see boundaries as an organization if we can create a meaningful impact outside of the district as well. It’s a great thing for our organization and our community!
“While there have been many programs set forth for economic relief due to the pandemic, access and expediency has, sometimes, been a challenge. The funds awarded to the town of Wytheville through the CDBG were timely for both Seven Sisters Brewery and Skeeter’s World Famous Hotdogs. We couldn’t be more appreciative of the work that Virginia Main Street and DWI have done to help small, Main Street businesses survive during the unprecedented time.” – David Clark, Owner, Seven Sisters Brewery and Skeeter’s World Famous Hotdogs
“It was a blessing to receive the financial help to keep the doors open and to remain a part of this beautiful main street in Downtown Wytheville, as well as serve such a wonderful community. We truly are grateful for the grant that helped us out tremendously!” – Tina Gregory-Williams, Owner, Glitz and Glam
While times remain uncertain for businesses and local communities, we, as an organization, will keep pushing and creating opportunities that make a lasting difference in our community. During 2021, our focus will be “Not Back to Normal, Forward to Better,” and we are not going to let COVID-19 drive the narrative. We want to be better than we ever have been as a community, and we look forward to leading that charge!