The pandemic hit Florence “Flo” Salazar Bruner and her 24-year-old business, Firehouse Auto Sales, harder than most. 

After suffering life-threatening injuries from a car accident, Salazar Bruner awoke to a new reality for her independent auto dealership. The pandemic spooked customers away from big purchases like cars. Now, skyrocketing prices are pushing people out of purchasing used vehicles. 

“We’re taking a hit on the business right now,” Salazar Bruner

An economic boost from grant money could come right on time, Salazar Bruner said. She wants to expand her business to hire more marketing professionals, transitioning her business to be completely virtual, she said, if only she could afford it.  

“It’s a pivotal moment,” Salazar Bruner said. “If we don’t do it now, we’re not going to gain momentum in the next quarter.” 

Tarrant County hopes to give local business owners and nonprofits an economic boost with a $25 million grant program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The county wants business owners to use the pot of money for recruitment, hiring and training, said Maegan South, economic development manager with Tarrant County. 

Applications for Tarrant County’s Small Business Workforce Recovery Grant open noon, July 11 and close at 5 p.m. Aug. 31. The applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. 

“When the funds are gone — they’re gone,” South said. 

Applicants must be a business with 50 or fewer employees, fall within an impacted industry and be operating within Tarrant County since Jan. 1, 2020. Applicants can review the full list of requirements here. Businesses are eligible to receive up to $27,500. Anticipating a high volume of applications, the county set the maximum award to a manageable level, South said. 

Impacted industries include:

  • Tourism, Travel and Hospitality
  • Non-Profits
  • Arts & Culture 
  • Food Service 
  • Construction and Landscaping
  • Gym/Fitness
  • Healthcare
  • Mortuary Services
  • Manufacturing 
  • Personal Care Services
  • Retail stores that do not sell essential household goods

Small-business loans and grants were an essential boost to Salazar Bruner’s business in the early days of the pandemic. She received a loan from the Small Business Administration and received $10,000 from Tarrant County, which helped her pay the rent during the height of COVID. 

Using money from the CARES Act, Tarrant County previously funded a grant program for small businesses that focused on revenue loss. The application was too complicated for some business owners, South said. 

The county used lessons from that process to simplify the application process, and increase the maximum award. In 2020, with an allocation of $30 million, the county set a maximum award of $10,000. Initially, the county did not receive enough applications to use up the total amount of money. 

This time around, business owners will not have to prove lost income to qualify for a grant. 

“The application is a lot simpler now,” South said.  

The county hopes that a simplified application process will encourage a broad range of businesses and nonprofits to apply. The program is geared towards smaller businesses, who have historically missed out on various small business loan and grant programs using federal stimulus funding. 

All Tarrant County residents can apply for this round of grant funding, South said. The 2020 program excluded Fort Worth businesses, because the city of Fort Worth had its own small business loan program — Preserve the Fort. 

Salazar Bruner prides herself on supporting her customers to get access to credit, and providing them with a trustworthy service. It’s the same support she received from the Fort Worth business community, including members of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who supported her following her near-fatal car accident, she said. 

Other small business owners will need similar levels of support to get through these trying times for small businesses, Salazar Bruner added. 

How to apply for the funds 

The county produced an application guide and a frequently asked questions page, outlining the required documents and criteria for businesses who want to apply. Information is also available on the city’s website in Spanish and Vietnamese.  

The county urges applicants to thoroughly review the guide and get paperwork prepped ahead of time to make the application process easier. Applicants should not rely on saving their progress in the application portal, South said, and aim to complete the application in one sitting. 

Who can you contact to get help with your application?

Business owners and applicants can also seek assistance through the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

Businesses are in desperate need of workforce recovery programs, said Michelle Green-Ford, president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce. 

“I see this as a perfect opportunity to assist business owners to gain capital that is crucially needed in these times of transition,” Green-Ford said. 

The various chambers will work together to provide as much assistance as possible to applicants, Green-Ford added. 

Salazar Bruner plans to reach out to other local sources of capital, including the newly created CDFI Friendly Fort Worth. The money received from the small business grants and loans would also go toward bringing on a salaried salesman, creating three new jobs. 

“I can’t afford people right now,” Salazar Bruner said. “I need somebody full time that is going to be able to do this (job). And these funds are going to help.” 

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org