Business Improvement Grant: BIG Ideas to Help Small Communities

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

There are many tools that work together to help make Ada a place where people want to live, work, and thrive, but they all work in concert to fulfill Ada Jobs Foundation’s vision—to promote a vibrant community and a prosperous local economy. One of these approaches, the Business Improvement Grant, involves multiple local partners coming together to revitalize our downtown area. This not only benefits our existing businesses but also creates a space where others might be encouraged to start their own, especially when they see the support that exists within our community. The Business Improvement Grant demonstrates that in Ada, we don’t just talk about helping our local businesses; we assist them where they need it most, by providing financial support and investing in their own vision.

The Business Improvement Grant was born from the vision of Amy Kaiser, the previous Director of Ada Main Street and Mayor Randy McFarland in 2018. They wanted to change the look of Main Street, which is one of the first things you see when entering the community. The Ada Jobs Foundation and the City of Ada became partners in funding and administering the grant. Funded by the City’s Proposition 2 sales tax, it goes beyond typical façade grants by funding structural projects like lighting, HVAC, plumbing, and accessibility improvements. Two types of grants are available for local businesses, depending on the scope of project needs. The first type, the Small Grant, provides a matching fund of up to 50% of the project’s total cost with a maximum funding amount of $5,000. The other type, the Mega Grant, is for projects much larger in scope and is intended to promote permanent structure renovation, historic restoration, and revitalization. For the Mega Grant, projects must have total expenditures of $20,000 or more.

Amy Kaiser, the Chair for the Business Improvement Grant Committee says, “When we created this program 5 years ago, I don’t think any of us could imagine a day coming so quickly, when we could report numbers like these. With 75 total projects completed, positively impacting 54 Main Street buildings, and a remarkable $354,796.87 granted in dollars, alongside a total investment of $785,496.88 poured into our Main Street District, it’s truly astounding. And we still have 10 projects in our pipeline and new projects waiting to be considered!”

Increasing downtown density by adding more living units is one of the primary goals of the Business Improvement Grant. One example of this are the newly constructed apartments above Serendipity. Daniel Castaneda, the Economic Development Specialist for the Ada Jobs Foundation says, “This project effectively used grant funds to increase housing options in the community, addressing a significant need. The added residential density in the downtown area is beneficial for the entire community.” A lively downtown helps make Ada more attractive for visitors and prospective residents, including college students. This visionary approach to community investment is crucial when it comes to promoting and encouraging new businesses, especially tech startups. In a 2022 interview with Jim Eldridge, former President and CEO of the Ada Jobs Foundation, Eldridge discussed the possibilities of Rural Innovation Districts and how something like this could impact Ada’s economy and overall community. This initiative goes beyond bringing in technology and innovation-based businesses; it is important to build an overall ecosystem where people want to live, work, and stay.

The grant will leverage other projects that will provide an additional $100,000 in investment to the Main Street area over the next year. Combined with the streetscape improvements, this continues to help Ada’s central business district become an attractive “core” of the community. This will help attract talent and entrepreneurs who are seeking dense and vibrant parts of the state. It will help increase the total volume of sales and sales tax collections by incentivizing the top businesses in the Main Street area to improve their businesses. This is a community partnership that Ada Jobs Foundation is committed to and proud to support. Amy Kaiser says, “Thank you, to all who started this project with us or have joined us along the way. This is a story you should all be very proud of. Without your hard work, time, and dedication, this would not have been possible. Thank you to the City of Ada, Ada Main Street, and Ada Jobs Foundation for joining forces to fund and run this operation. So much has been accomplished. I can’t wait to see what is yet to come. $1,000,000 benchmark, we’re coming for you!”

Interested businesses can visit the Ada Main Street Business Improvement Grant page to apply for either grant. From there, they can access the application packet. The applicant must outline the scope of work and include any construction bid quotes or material cost estimates. After the applicant submits the application, the committee scores it, and the Ada Main Street Board approves the highest scoring applications. Because they want the process to be as helpful as possible, they also offer technical assistance and feedback on projects before the final submission deadline, which is April 7th at midnight.

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