Tumwater city council questions allocation of Thurston Strong funds

Doubts expressed on how it is used


Members of Tumwater’s city council questioned the benefits that the city would receive from Thurston Strong and held off from voting on whether Mayor Debbie Sullivan should sign an agreement with the Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) to implement the second phase of Thurston Strong. The council did not vote on the matter and decided to put the agreement on a work session to better understand how Tumwater benefits from the initiative.

Thurston Strong is a COVID-19 economic recovery initiative between several cities and institutions in Thurston County. Its first phase focuses on personal resilience and relief, while its second phase prioritizes business recovery and renewal.

During the meeting yesterday, city staff presented how Thurston Strong has helped entrepreneurs throughout the county. Councilmember Leatta Dahlhoff criticized the presentation as it failed to explain the benefit of the initiative to entrepreneurs of Tumwater despite earlier requests to touch on this topic.

“Every time the EDC comes to Tumwater, more than one council member specifically asked for slides that pertain to Tumwater. With the money that we distribute in the community and throughout the county, we have a responsibility to tell our community members where these dollars are going,” Dahlhoff said.

Council member Joan Cathey agreed with Dahlhoff, adding that details on the proposed utilization of a $350,000 fund to support Thurston Strong are “nebulous.”

Proposed allocation of $350,000 fund

On October 26, 2021, the Tumwater city council approved the allocation of $350,000 from the federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the second phase of Thurston Strong.

Tumwater city staff and EDC have since identified several priorities which the fund could be used for. Most of the fund will go towards childcare operator grants amounting to $205,000.

While the city council agreed on the merit of using the fund for childcare, city council members said they wanted to discuss the remainder of the funds.

City administrator John Doan assured the council that they have been working to identify the best way to use the fund.

“I think this has been an ongoing conversation from the time the council allocated the (previous) $350,000. We've had conversations about how could that get spent in Tumwater that makes sense in Tumwater,” Doan said.

The second most significant portion of the fund will go towards startup training and capacity-building services, amounting to $80,000. Of this amount, $60,000 will be used for EDC’s Center for Business and Innovation, which assists entrepreneurs with training, funding, and consultation.

The city staff proposed that applicants for the program may fall under two cohorts. The first cohort is for people looking to open a brewing and distilling business. Eligible entrepreneurs will be granted $750. Applicants looking to pursue other businesses may also qualify if they are a veteran, Black, indigenous, or people of color.

The second cohort is for students who have finished the craft brewing or craft distilling program of the South Puget Sound Community College. Eligible applicants will be granted $1,500.

The city staff also proposed that $20,000 could be used for Quick Startup, an incubator program initiated by the Washington Center for Women in Business. It aims to provide qualified applicants with training and resources to market an online store for one year.

Part of the fund amounting to $15,000 will be used for overhead costs such as accounting and audit control. The remaining $50,000 will be set aside so Tumwater and EDC, along with the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, can further deliberate how it can be used to support Tumwater-based nonprofits that assist the city with economic development programs.


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