Missoula County will distribute $625,000 in grants to help local businesses retain jobs for low- and moderate-income employees during the pandemic, commissioners said this week.

Qualifying businesses can submit applications for the Small Business Job Retention Fund, and grants will be awarded in January.

“The pandemic has hit us all hard, and the coronavirus has been especially devastating for small businesses,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “Due to the diligence and creativity of our Grants and Community Programs staff, we are excited to announce the availability of county grant funding specifically for small businesses in Missoula County.

The application portal for the grants will open at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 10, and complete application packages will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The funds are intended to stimulate economic development by helping businesses retain jobs for low- and moderate-income people, meaning individuals or families whose household income is up to 80% of the area median income when adjusted for family size.

 With the sunsetting of state and federal COVID-19 assistance programs and the slow winter season just around the corner, commissioners allocated a portion of the funds to provide working capital grants to help retain jobs and reduce the financial impact COVID has had on small businesses and the Missoula workforce.

 “We get that this is just a Band-Aid, and that real, sustainable relief means an end to the crisis,” Slotnick said. “This is how we can use federal money to help small businesses at the county level right now, and we're proud to do it.”

 Businesses must meet certain requirements to qualify for the grants, including having 50 or fewer employees, retaining at least one full-time employee who qualifies as low-to-moderate-income, and having no record of violating any COVID health orders.

Funding must also apply to situations where alternative sources of public and private financing are not available or adequate to stabilize small businesses to prevent layoffs.

Grant awards will range from $10,000 to $25,000 per applicant and will depend upon the demonstrated cost of commercial lease, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, payroll expenses or inventory costs over the three-month term of the grant award.

Interested for-profit businesses can review eligibility requirements and apply online at http://missoula.co/jobgrants.