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Spokane County businesses awarded more than $500,000 in grants

UPDATED: Thu., June 25, 2020

Jacob Stermer and Mari Stermer, front, owners of APi Electric in Spokane Valley, are joined by son Ezra, and, from left in back, electricians Kody Wood, Nural Coco and Jeremy Brooks.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jacob Stermer and Mari Stermer, front, owners of APi Electric in Spokane Valley, are joined by son Ezra, and, from left in back, electricians Kody Wood, Nural Coco and Jeremy Brooks. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane County small businesses received a combined $583,000 in grants from the state Department of Commerce last week, improving the outlook for many struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis.

More than 1,850 businesses in Spokane County applied and 61 were selected to receive funding. The grants for businesses with fewer than 10 employees can be used for such expenses as operations, rent, supplies, inventory, utility bills, consulting and marketing.

Most of the businesses selected were restaurants or retailers, although contractors, construction and other service-based businesses received grants. Forty-four of the businesses selected were in the city of Spokane, nine were in Spokane Valley and five were in Cheney. Businesses in Medical Lake, Mead and Otis Orchards each received one grant. Every business selected will receive between $8,000 and $10,000.

Grant recipients Jacob and Mari Stermer, who own APi Electric in Spokane Valley, said their $10,000 grant should help them recover from sacrifices they’ve made during the pandemic The couple, who went into business for themselves last summer offering low-cost electrical services and assistance in English and Spanish, didn’t qualify for unemployment and had only one part-time employee who was covered by the a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

“We quit our jobs so we could do this, and when COVID hit, we had nothing,” Jacob said.

Stermer said APi Electric was categorized as an essential business this spring, but unclear rules meant they spent three weeks not working during what is normally their busiest time. He said they used their stimulus checks and their 401(k)s while cutting expenses where they could to keep their new business afloat. He said the grant, and being able to work again, should give them what they need to continue and attempt to grow the company into what they imagined when they started it.

Stermer said the company has plenty of work to do, and four employees to do it. He said the next few weeks will likely be focused on work they normally do, getting people back into their homes once they’ve had some flooding or electrical issues.

Another family business that received a $10,000 grant, Latah Creek Wine Cellars, is also hoping the funding will help it recover from losses.

Mike Conway, who has owned the business with his wife since the 1980s, said he, like many, was “sitting on pins and needles” while trying to make decisions during the pandemic. He said the winery has tried to reduce expenses where possible, but it’s hard to replace what they’ve lost in sales to restaurants.

Conway said the grant definitely won’t replace all the lost revenue, but he hopes it will help Latah Creek overcome the challenges it’s facing.

“We’re going to survive,” he said. “We’ve been here 38 years. We’ve seen ups and downs and have the ability to weather the storm.”

Statewide, more than 26,000 businesses applied for grants and more than 1,000 were selected, according to the state Commerce Department’s website. Most applications were screened by a local business and tourism organization and sent on to the department. Greater Spokane Incorporated screened most Spokane County grant applications and forwarded 120 of the more than 1,850 received to the state for a final decision.

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