A new program hopes to help more businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, Salt Lake County is launching the Economic Inclusion Community Assistance Program aimed at mitigating the K-shaped economic recovery resulting from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Business Insider characterizes a K-shaped recovery as a scenario where certain industries and individuals pull out of a recession, while others stagnate, basically splitting an economy in two with separations “along class, racial, geographic or industry lines.” The K-shaped recovery typically reveals previous variances and inequities in wealth that can be exacerbated.

In the wake of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, the county is seeking to address those gaps in connecting diverse business owners with existing resources that have otherwise gone underutilized or unknown to potential small business recipients, said Salt Lake County Economic Development Director Jevon Gibb.

”The gaps that existed before the pandemic are becoming even wider coming out of the pandemic, and a lot of the problem is about inclusion because the companies and communities that are falling further behind faced issues of inclusion beforehand,” he said.

COVID-19 Economic Recovery Program Manager Samantha Mary Thermos said county leaders want to leverage community organizations’ relationships to help connect diverse businesses with the support they need to recover from the pandemic’s effects and achieve long-term success.

“We believe community partners have the existing relationships, established networks and cultural awareness necessary to effectively assist diverse business owners experiencing the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic, and this program will facilitate that one-on-one connection,” she said.

The program is being developed to fund partners that work with businesses in communities experiencing economic opportunity gaps, including African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-Pacific, women, persons with disabilities, veterans, socially or economically disadvantaged businesses, and businesses located in areas with lower economic opportunity, Gibb said.

“We still have important work to do around inclusion. Some communities are getting left behind, and COVID-19 has made that trend worse,” Gibb said. “All too often, this lack of opportunity goes overlooked. We’re excited to work with partners to help these communities achieve their potential, which will create a stronger economy for everybody in Salt Lake County.”

The county currently has allocated $200,000 that will be used to fund trainings through partnerships with nonprofit organizations who will work as facilitators and provide assistance to small businesses that may need help in fostering the relationships required to prosper long term, she said.

“Our role would be to add capacity or money to provide more trainers or facilitators to pay nonprofits to seek answers, and as that works through, we hope that companies can do things like have a better banking relationships with their financial institution.

“Maybe they don’t understand how banking works in the U.S., so (we might have) a facilitator sit down with them and explain how banking works and what kind of records they need to keep,” Thermos said.

In addition to introducing them to a bank that understands their needs, help could include something like “Excel classes, basic business needs, but then there’s also specific needs — maybe it’s a day care facility,” she said.

“We know that women are an unfortunate example of how the recovery has been very tough and funding nonprofits to help train day care providers and day care centers to add capacity is huge,” she added. “That’s been a big hit in the economy, and so if we can help with some of those specific things, that would be an example of those (needs to be met).”

Gibb said the initial program funding rollout is targeted for six months, upon which time the county will evaluate any changes or adjustments that could be made to improve its functionality. The hope is to develop in a way that will be an asset to diverse business enterprises for years to come, he said.

“We’re talking about opportunity communities, and opportunity business enterprises,” he said. “That’s being defined as communities that have experienced less economic mobility or economic opportunity in the past.”

“We’ve taken a flexible approach there, but with the underlying goal of ‘Help us understand how this community has experienced economic opportunity gaps in the past and how you’re going to work on that,’” he explained. “It’s not just one characteristic that we’re going to say, ‘Yes, then you qualify.’ It’s open to (interpretation). Issues about the kind of opportunities you face are complex, and so we’re going to take that flexible approach to understand that complexity.”

The application deadline is April 7. Organizations interested in applying and participating in the program can visit the Economic Inclusion Community Assistance Program website or contact Samantha Mary Thermos at sthermos@slco.org.