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News
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Owatonna Degner Regional Airport looking to spread its wings

A recent federal grant will save Owatonna residents money and bring improvements to the local airport. Officials hope the updates will continue to encourage economic development and bring new businesses to the area.

The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport Commission last month formally accepted a Federal Aviation Administration grant it had been recently selected to receive. The commission approved the grant intended for the designing and engineering costs related to a new T-hangar with 10 units, taxi-lane and building design or phase one of the project.

“The grant was just for that phase of the project,” Airport Manager Dave Beaver said.

Aircraft storage space at the Owatonna Degner’s Regional Airport is hard to come by, but this project will provide more space in the future. Currently the airport has three hangars, each with 10 units, which individuals can rent to store their aircrafts in.

“We do have a number of people that are sort of on a list looking for hangar space, so that’s another reason why we are looking at designing and putting in another one,” Beaver said.

The $134,700 FAA grant will cover 100% of eligible design and engineering costs. There are no projected local costs for this phase of the project.

“It was anticipated the state share would have been 5% funding; however, under CARES Act Legislation, state and local funding are now anticipated to be covered 100% by FAA funding participation,” Beaver wrote to the city council board.

The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution that will accept a state companion grant — a Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics Grant — to help facilitate reimbursement. The resolution is to go with the prior approved FAA grant. This companion grant does not include any additional funds, it's simply for formality. This allows the airport to use the state as its agent to reimburse the federal funds by working with the state’s aeronautics division.

“Every federal grant that we receive comes with a state companion grant,” Beaver said. “It's just a way for the project to be reimbursed, it’s a mechanism, the state works with the FAA to disburse funds. So in order for us to actually get the reimbursement for the federal funds that's already been accepted, this allows the mechanism to happen.”

Beaver says they are currently in the very beginning stages of the designing process for the taxi-lane and hangar. They are looking at design considerations, such as discussing what the best type of hangar doors to use, best options for snow and ice accumulation and types of electrical and lightning.

“We talked about those concerns and considerations, just initial discussion there at the last (commission) meeting, but we will probably dive deeper into it here coming into the next couple of months,” Beaver said.

He says they likely won’t be able to start the bidding process for a while, over the next year, adding that there is still time to look at all of the considerations. Phase two of the project, construction, is projected to begin 2021.

“The first thing we are trying to do is properly plan for aviation needs here,” Beaver said.

This means high functioning runways, taxi-lanes and storage for aircrafts that need to fly into Owatonna to do business.

“We also want to make sure that we have enough hangar space for aircrafts that need it and right now those hangars are full, so it’s appropriate to start looking at ways to expand that demand and provide the infrastructure needed for that,” Beaver said.

The airport’s mission is to positively impact the local community and economy, according to its mission statement. Beaver says the airport does, whether it’s by providing for business use of the airport, providing access to the community or the revenue the airport earns. It all contributes to how the airport supports the local economy, according to Beaver.

The federal funding is intended to improve airport safety and infrastructure, according to a FAA news release.

“This nearly $800 million federal investment in airport infrastructure will strengthen safety, improve travel, generate jobs and provide many economic benefits for local communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao according to the release.


News
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Blooming Prairie accepting applications for CARES business grants

Langholz

A new program led by the Blooming Prairie Economic Development Authority with help from the city’s Chamber of Commerce will help local businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city and the county have joined forces to provide assistance to local businesses by offering grants as part of the new Blooming Prairie CARES Business Grant Program. A preliminary motion to approve the program was made back in early August, with additional approval by the EDA. On Monday night, the Blooming Prairie City Council voted to allocate $41,000 to the program after receiving further details about the program.

Steele County has pledged an additional $34,000 to the program, bringing the anticipated potential total of funding up to $75,000, according to agenda notes. The application period is open now and will close at 5 p.m. Oct. 12.

Items such as program guidelines, frequently asked questions and applications can be picked up in the city hall, on the city’s website or requested via email from the city administrator at cbp@smig.net. The Blooming Prairie EDA and chamber will be reaching out to local businesses to encourage them to apply for the grants to potentially be reimbursed for COVID-19 related expenses.

“We’ve had a few come in, a few called and then our chamber representative is going out to some businesses, but then we will be reaching out individually,” Andrew Langholz, Blooming Prairie city administrator said.

As of Monday morning, the city has yet to receive a completed application.

Eligible businesses can receive a grant up to $5,000. Award funds may be used for operating costs, such as payroll, rent, mortgage and utilities, among other expenses. Once the deadline comes, the city will review all of the applications and funds will be granted to those in most need of assistance.

“Then at that point, if depending on how many requests come it, like if it exceeds our funding amount, we would look at ranking them, possibly in tiers, so businesses that were affected the most, like bars and restaurants which are still at the 50% capacity order would likely be a high tier, but that’s still yet to be determined,” Langholz said.

Eligible businesses must met the following criteria as of March 1, 2020, according to the Blooming Prairie CARES Business Grant Program, provided on the Blooming Prairie website:

Must be a private, for profit business with a physical establishment in the city.

Be in good standing with the Minnesota Department of Revenue and Secretary of State, the county and the city. If the applicant is found not to be in good standing, they will be given one week to fix the situation.

An ability to show that their business was adversely impacted by a COVID-19 related Executive Order or experienced a significant financial hardship as a direct result of COVID-19.

The business must have been in operation since Nov. 1, 2019 and must remain open for six months under the current ownership from the date of fund issuance. If a business is sold or closes within six months of the date of funds being issued, repayment of the grant must be made in full to the city.

The business must employ 30 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.

Information on ineligible businesses can be found on the Blooming Prairie city website. It should be noted that this program is not for nonprofits.

Applicants are also asked to provide basic details about their business, receipts/sale information, status on whether the business is currently closed or has reduced services, description, and estimated expenses as a result of COVID-19, information about other grants awarded, information on prospective uses and funding amount requested as well as supporting documents. Expenses related to COVID-19 must be incurred between March 1 and Oct. 9, 2020, and funding is to be used for expenses previously incurred.

Langholz says he took on the task of putting the program together for the EDA. He says he worked closely with Owatonna and Steele County and other towns in Steele County just to make sure they were all on the same page. Following the process of other surrounding areas, Blooming Prairie CARES Business Grant Program was created.

“I just had to tinker with it a little bit to get it tailored to Blooming Prairie, but not much.” Langholz said.

Businesses that have received other federal funding such as the Small Business Administration (SBA), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) or the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) are still able to apply to the Blooming Prairie CARES Business Grant Program. Only expenses that have not been reimbursed by these programs are eligible for the Blooming Prairie grant program. Businesses that have received CARES business grant funding from Department Employment and Economic Development (DEED) or the state of Minnesota are not eligible.

Completed applications can be turned in to the city hall (138 Highway Ave. South) or mailed (P.O. Box 68, Blooming Prairie, MN 55917, must be received by Oct. 12) or emailed to cbp@smig.net.

Blooming Prairie will connect with grantees during the last week in October. They will then distribute the monies the following week, according to the program details.

Based on information gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau from Aug. 30 to Sept 5, 31.8% of U.S. small businesses have experienced a large negative effect from the pandemic. Data from the Small Business Pulse Survey also shows that 45.3% of small businesses in the U.S. believe more than six months of time will pass before their business will return to normal operations.


Business
spotlight
Auto dealership turned repair shop closes its doors

Less than three months after ending its agreement with Ford Motor Co., a storied auto dealership and repair business has closed its doors entirely — and for good.

Last week, Blooming Prairie’s BP Auto Services and Repair (formerly and much better known as Krejci Ford) closed its doors for the final time. The business announced the news on Facebook, to the dismay of dozens of disappointed former customers.

Longtime Office Manager Cheri Krejci said that the closure took place after one of the repair shop’s three technicians accepted an offer to work at another dealership. While he hadn’t been looking to move elsewhere, the technician said the offer was too good to pass up.

Krejci said she understood the decision, but that without three technicians, the Krejcis decided their business model couldn’t work. She said that other technicians were also fortunate enough to have strong job offers and/or prospects. While she’s confident about the future of the company’s now-former technicians, Krejci expressed sadness about leaving behind the business’s devoted and loyal customers, who she bonded with over more than three decades.

“We want to thank all of our loyal customers, we’ve enjoyed having them all,” she said. “We wish them all well.”

When the Krejcis ended their relationship with Ford Motor Co. in June, it marked the end of the franchise’s 100-year presence in the community. The Krejci family owned Blooming Prairie’s Ford Dealership for nearly half of that time.

Krejci’s husband, Rick, and his two brothers took over the dealership from their father in 1990. With Chrysler and GM closing many rural auto dealerships in the wake of the 2008 recession, Ford was the only game in town in the Blooming Prairie area.

The Krejci dealership was known for providing high-quality customer service. Just since 1990, the dealership received the company’s President’s Award no fewer than 15 times, in recognition of the high levels of customer satisfaction it achieved.

In addition to keeping their customers happy, the Krejcis succeeded in pleasing their employees as well. By the time the dealership closed, all three service technicians had worked at the dealership for more than 15 years and said they wanted to stay. However, the Krejcis began to near a reasonable retirement age just as the industry began to shift, hurting small dealerships like Krejci Ford. After searching for and being unable to find a buyer, the Krejcis decided they had no choice but to sell.

On Monday, the Ford sign that stood in front of the dealership for decades finally came down, truly marking the end of an era. Krejci said that the former dealership’s prime real estate along Highway 218 has already been put up for sale.

Blooming Prairie Mayor Curt Esplan said that he’s hopeful that it won’t be too long before another prosperous business takes over the location. He also praised the Krejcis for how they ran the business over the years, and wished them the best in the future.

“(The dealership) is going to be missed,” he said. It provided steady, stable jobs in Blooming Prairie, brought a lot of people to the city, and did good business for a long time.”


matson caringbridge

Waseca Police Officer Arik Matson, who was shot in the head in January, continues to recover after suffering two grand mal seizures in early August. (CaringBridge site photo)