Thurston Strong update presented to Olympia City Council

Images show distribution of PPP loans throughout the county

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The Olympia City Council received a presentation from Thurston Strong, the county-based economic recovery organization created after the start of the pandemic, which shared that businesses and organizations in the city of Olympia had received over $60 million in federal funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The numbers were from an update on the ongoing Thurston County reset and recovery program. Jason Robertson of J Robertson and Co, which helped to facilitate the organization’s work, presented details at the regular city council meeting last Tue., May 18.

During the first phase of the program, more than $100 million in PPP loans were disbursed throughout the county. Out of the $100 million, Olympia businesses and organizations garnered over $60 million of the federal loans with an average loan amount of $32,000 for each business owner. The other $40 million was distributed among businesses and organizations throughout the balance of Thurston County.

Generally, most PPP loans were anticipated to convert from loans to grants, through a loan-forgiveness process.  Robertson shared that this enabled businesses and organizations to continue to employ nearly 7,000 employees.

During his report, Robertson presented a detailed map that showed the distribution of the loans in the county [see images above this story]. The different icons in the map also represent the various kinds of businesses and organizations that benefited from the federal loans.

Cities Pooled Grant Funds

Aside from PPP Loans, he said that Thurston County, along with the cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, contributed their federal pass-through funding to raise $10 million to create a collective Direct Impact Fund.

The fund was distributed among childcare, microbusinesses, restaurant, retail, agriculture, as well as non-profit organizations. In 2020, the Direct Impact Fund had given nearly $3 million to childcare providers.

Robertson explained that improving and maintaining a child care system is necessary since it “checks multiple boxes.” He said that child care provides additional support for parents working as front-line workers, and added that child care facilities are losing money from the coronavirus pandemic. He believes that potential closures of childcare facilities would have an impact not only on the families served but, on their employees, most of whom are woman and people of color.

Future Plans

Thurston Strong was formed in March 2020 to provide business recovery assistance and is scheduled to end its operations in 24 months. It’s “a souped up version of what we created in 2017, the Thurston Economic Alliance’s Strategic Economic Development Plan,” Robertson told The JOLT.  That document was the “first-ever” wraparound economic development plan for the county.

Thurston Strong focuses on improving three key areas, including building an inclusive economy, economic resiliency, and economic expansion.

Under its plan to create a more inclusive economy, Thurston Strong hopes to provide more opportunities for people from different socio-economic backgrounds, genders, and races. Their plan targets the underprivileged and those who belong to the minority.  Robertson said that Thurston Strong plans to establish a minority business development council. The new council will be responsible for building partnerships with business advocates as well as create policies and systemic structures.

In addition, the organization also plans to establish a local Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). The move will allow business owners to have increased access to capital, especially for underfunded entrepreneurs.

Robertson explained that the organization seeks to support employing people with “a living wage since most of those who lost their job during the pandemic were low-wage income earners. “If we build back, can we also build back better opportunities and career options for people,” Robertson said.

While promoting local economic growth, Olympia economic development director Mike Reid reiterated that it is also necessary to encourage regional work and cooperation because COVID-19 “doesn’t care about boundaries.”

Councilmember Dani Madrone and Pro Tem Mayor Clark Gilman also expressed their excitement for Olympia’s economic recovery, especially with establishing a local CDFI lender. Gilman said, “I can see this leading to just growth. We are focusing on community benefits, resiliency, and security for our residents.”

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