Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
I hope you are planning a relaxing Memorial Day weekend…many are starting to reenter lives at different rates of speed…Cherry and I are entertaining our greater family at our house this weekend on Sunday – which forecasts to be a rainy day. Still…after an extended period of not seeing loved ones (except by Zoom), we are anxious to reconnect. We intend to social distance and use commonsense…but for the most part are just looking forward to seeing family again. Not all are coming…some continue to shelter in place and are still working from home. We respect that too.
 
Kansas 2020 Legislative Session:
 
The Kansas Legislature stumbled to the finish line at 7:50 this morning after an all-day-all-night session, finally adjourning the 2020 Kansas Legislature…officially in session 10-minutes short of 24 hours. The controversial legislation debated through the night was all regarding COVID and how much power the governor should be allowed. In the end, the new legislation requires 6 of 8 of the Legislative Coordinating Council members to approve Governor Kelly’s actions to close businesses and additionally bless how the federal COVID dollars are to be disbursed to local communities. It will take a few days for the dust to settle…but a session which began last January with talk of Medicaid Expansion and tax reforms ended mostly with battles over what the governor’s powers are going forward in regard to the pandemic. Politics are never pretty…it is amazing how well it works in the end when all is said and done. Since we are clearly in unprecedented times only time will tell how everything was handled…historians are going to have a field day with this period when they look back with perspective as opposed to the conjecture which is required in the moment of decision making.
 
Loans to Grants:
 
We still have money to inject into our local economy…and going forward we are officially converting the loans to grants. The City of Ottawa has for years had a Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) fund pool which the federal government has allowed to be used as an incentive to attract new and help expanding businesses. After the money is loaned and repaid…it is available to loan again. Now…the government wants these fund dollars injected into the economy. If we exhaust our current fund we have the opportunity to get additional funds…we have applied for another $300,000.00. It will be a couple of weeks before we know if our request is granted…but going forward all awards are grants with no expectation to be repaid…not loans. 
 
Some local businesses have been reticent to use this available pool because they didn’t want to incur more or new debt…a wise business decision. But now…this is truly free money. There are restrictions which apply. You must supply invoices showing the expenses happened during the pandemic…rent, inventory, payroll, insurance – all are eligible. There is a $20,000.00 cap and a long-running requirement of CBDG is having an employee base which are low-to-moderate income and how many of those jobs are retained…this requirement still applies. Most businesses can make the numbers work…especially if they’ve had to reduce payroll by layoffs or enact a reduction of wages. 
 
Single proprietors qualify…they are allowed to count themselves as an employee…and in many cases, their spouse. You still need to apply for these funds through the City’s Community Development Department (email here) or call 785.229.3620. Here are the links to the CBDG funds and the American Eagle Outfitters Foundation fund. Additionally the federal Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) funds are still available too…contact your local banker on accessing and apply for these dollars. 
 
Bottom line…we do not want a single business in Ottawa to fail because of this pandemic. If you need help – reach out. We are lucky to have this rainy-day fund…and if you look at the situation – it’s raining!!
 
Loma Vista Nursery:
 
This local nursery growing business is one we all see when we drive around Ottawa on I-35…and are all impressed with the size and scale of the operation. Bust most know little about who they are or what they do. They are longstanding community partners having been large contributors to the building of Legacy Square. The Huck Boyd Institute for Rural Development recently did a profile on this local business and provided much fun news in a time when good news is rare to see. You can read the full article here.  
 
Here is a teaser…the first paragraph, “From pitches to plants. From hardballs to hibiscus. From the strike zone to the root zone. Those phrases are a way of describing the transition made by a Major League Baseball player who, with his daughter, has developed one of the leading plant nurseries in the nation.” Mark Clear, a former Kansas City Royals player and his daughter Lyndsi Oestman are doing a fantastic job with this commercial nursery business in South Ottawa…take a minute to enjoy reading about this local company.  
 
Rock Creek Care of Ottawa:
 
Rock Creek of Ottawa recently announced Stephanie Anderson is the new Executive Director of the retirement care facility…you can see and read about Stephanie here. Typically I don’t relay all new appointments or promotions but I’m making an exception in this instance…Stephanie (a Pomona High School graduate) was one of the over 100 local 4-Hers I had the honor to chaperone to Washington D.C. For over 15 years I took high school students to the National 4-H Center to participate in a citizenship and leadership forum which was top notch! During the week, they would tour the nation’s Capital, learn about democracy and experienced a truly life-changing event for the young burgeoning leaders. So…naturally when one of them rises to a level of local leadership and notoriety I take specific note. Good job Steph…I’m only expecting bigger and better things in the future!! 
 
Franklin County Courthouse:
 
The “Grand Ol’ Lady” is getting a bit of a makeup touch up during the pandemic. She is getting painted from the roofline down (pictures here). Designed by local architect George Washburn, we have been ardent down through the years in maintaining this local treasure…good for us – many communities did not protect their old courthouses and now regret it. Ask someone who lives in Iola. Many grand courthouse buildings and our state capitol building were built in the shadows of the Civil War and in a time when citizens wanted to make a statement as to how precious democracy is…and how fragile. Maintaining them to their original standards is the least we can do…even though they are not as functional as they once were when originally designed – they stand as testaments to strife, survival and history.
 
Chautauqua Festival:
 
Speaking of celebrating democracy…the Chautauqua Festival will look different this year. Because of uncertainty we will not hold all the festivities which accompanied the festival last year…but the fireworks will go off!! Many communities have already cancelled their planned celebrations…but this is mostly because of not having funds to purchase the fireworks. Our local Chamber committee chaired by Tiffany Evans and Tim Van Leiden have the fireworks already paid for. Social distancing will apply…but at least Ottawa will celebrate our National Day of Independence. More details as planning continues. 
 
Grandkids:
 
A few grandkid pictures this week…we had several kindergarten and preschool promotions which are celebrated way more than they were when I was in school (here are pictures). We also had a sleepover at our house this week…good to start seeing the kids again.
 
Have a relaxing weekend…the pace is going to start picking up. Continue to be safe and use good judgement. Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John  
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000