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Spokane County Commissioners approve $2 million in CARES funding for marketing campaign

County Commissioner Al French, shown Nov. 27, 2018, said the marketing campaign is meant to "rebuild community confidence" in local businesses and encourage behaviors that will allow people to safely visit restaurants and stores.  (Libby Kamrowski)

Spokane County Commissioners approved nearly $2 million in COVID-19 aid funding to pay for a marketing campaign designed to encourage people to shop locally, highlight businesses that are following health guidelines and promote behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Commissioners unanimously voted to spend the funds during a meeting Monday and stressed that the funding was for economic recovery.

The $1.97 million spent was a portion of Spokane’s allotment of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, which Congress passed in March. Spokane County was awarded about $90 million and has spent nearly a third of the money over the past few months.

The funding was divided between Visit Spokane, Greater Spokane Incorporated, Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, West Plains Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Spokane Partnership.

A portion of the funding will be used to partner with the Inlander to create a website and printed materials about what businesses are open and what services they are offering as the county moves forwards in the state’s reopening plan.

The money will also fund a second website that will feature a regularly updated guide to what is open in the county and what services different organizations are providing.

Cara Coon, vice president of communications and public affairs for GSI, said the guides will likely be released as the county moves to future phases.

The funding will also be used to create kits for businesses to post around their brick-and-mortar locations and online, encouraging mask wearing and other hygiene practices. There will also be a marketing campaign, likely on TV and billboards, encouraging support for local businesses and healthy behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as mask wearing.

Coon said some parts of the campaign will likely highlight businesses that have successfully reopened and followed the safety guidelines.

The remaining $500,000 will be used to create a sub granting program that GSI will administer. Those funds will be used for small marketing grants for business districts, such as the Garland District or North Monroe, or for organizations that support the arts, such as Spokane Arts.

Spokane County Commissioners have already spent more than $25 million in CARES Act funds, $2.5 million of which was on a separate marketing campaign Visit Spokane will run promoting the area’s tourism. The remaining funding was used for small business grants, contact tracing, PPE for businesses and county employees, and telecommuting supplies for county staff.

County Commissioner Al French said the campaign was meant to “rebuild community confidence” in local businesses and encourage behaviors that will allow people to safely visit restaurants and stores.

“If we are adhering to all these protocols, we’ll see a drop in infection, allowing us to move to the next phase,” he said.

Most of the $2.5 million already budgeted for Visit Spokane’s tourism recovery marketing campaign won’t be spent until the county moves to a later phase of reopening.

French said he hopes current, locally focused business promotion efforts will allow Spokane residents and visitors to feel safe when they shop and eat out.