Demand for COVID financial relief for Otter Tail County businesses has far outstripped what the county can supply, Community Development Director Amy Baldwin told county commissioners at their Tuesday, Jan. 26, meeting.

Minnesota gave counties money for grants to businesses suffering from the pandemic-related shutdown, and Otter Tail County's share was $1.15 million. More than 150 businesses have applied for that assistance and their requests have topped $2.1 million, she said, drawing an exclamation from Commission Chairman Lee Rogness.

The application period for the aid has ended. Last week, the county approved awards for 23 businesses totaling $284,000, Baldwin said.

“Those were predominantly restaurants,” she said. "Today we will look at the second group of priority applications and looking at getting those checks out this week."

To qualify for the aid, the businesses had to show a 30% decline in sales from 2019 to 2020. Some businesses missed out on earlier aid through the Minnesota Department of Revenue because the department didn't consider fourth-quarter income from 2020, when businesses were hit hard by another mandated shutdown. Some Otter Tail County businesses missed that aid by just a couple of percentage points.

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However, the county's assistance takes that fourth quarter into consideration, Baldwin said.

The shutdowns have also affected Otter Tail County workers. The jobless rate is at 4.9%, up from 3.3% in November but down from 5.4% a year ago, Baldwin told commissioners.

The number of Otter Tail County workers participating in the workforce also has improved a little, which she called "a positive trend." The improvement is small — only 30 additional workers — but it contrasts to data that shows workforce participation continuing to fall in the state as a whole.

"We’ll see how this number shifts as we get into spring and transition into the next phase of business opening and hopefully seeing some positive trends overall with employers,” she said.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Approved the purchase of an 11-acre parcel at 19248 430th St. in Pelican Rapids for $87,000, plus miscellaneous costs.
  • Hired WSB to design improvements for 3.1 miles of County State Aid Highway 35 between Highways 18 and 1 north of Underwood. The shoulders are to be widened, among other work, and construction is to begin in 2024.