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NCC eyes potential $1M small business grant program

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New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer announces the $1 million small business grant program while Councilman John Cartier listens Friday morning. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

CLAYMONT – New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer unveiled a proposed $1 million grant program Friday that would assist small business owners looking to compete online and help beautify the county’s commercial corridors.

The economic development fund is part of a $24 million package of grant programs, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by the Biden administration in March, that Meyer is proposing to address a variety of needs from education to housing, environmental justice to health care. The New Castle County Council is set to consider whether to give his administration the power to levy $54 million in federal stimulus funds at his discretion at their Nov. 9 meeting.

In addition to the funds, Meyer said that his administration was working with the county council to permanently change codes related to outdoor dining that were temporarily put into place during the pandemic as a way to open additional opportunities for businesses.

The economic development fund announced Friday specifically targets small businesses and would help owners market their products and services online or beautify their brick-and-mortar location as part of a commercial corridor revitalization campaign.

“We want to make everywhere look like the beautiful corridors we see in Greenville and Centerville. Every community, every commercial strip, should look like that,” Meyer said at a press conference at the Holly Oak Plaza in Claymont.

He did not yet have details on how the grants would be allocated, including what the limits would be or what eligibility factors would determine recipients.

“I think we’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half, and we want to make sure that small businesses can compete in a global, post-COVID world,” he said, noting that this proposed funding was an idea put forward by a community advisory for the county.

Councilman John Cartier, who supported Meyer’s announcement Friday, said that he hoped to bring some of those grant funds to his Claymont district.

“There is no commercial corridor in unincorporated New Castle County capable of absorbing the ARPA funds, putting them to use and propelling this community forward like we are here in Claymont,” he said.

Among those small business owners who could potentially benefit is Emlyn DeGannes, owner of MeJah Books at the Holly Oak Plaza. She said that although the past year has been difficult, her community and longtime customers have rallied to support her small business.

“[The pandemic] hit us, but it didn’t knock us down,” she said, noting that she had new customers coming from out-of-state to patronize a small business, especially one that was minority-owned following the social movement of 2020.

Despite her survival through the pandemic so far, DeGannes said she recognizes that to survive long-term her small business must have a better online presence.

“We all shop online every day now using our phones or our computers. And I definitely know now that I have to have a stronger e-commerce presence,” she said, noting she hired a young intern over the past year to help update her website. “I would love that when they search my website, they find me and keep my business going in the community.”

MeJah does a lot of work with the incarcerated population as well as adjudicated youth, providing them an opportunity to learn through reading and express themselves through writing. DeGannes has even self-funded publishing of books by some of those young people.

“I’m an immigrant who came looking for the American dream. So now that I’m here in America, I want to make sure that dream continues for our children,” she said.

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