At Faribault Child Care Center, owner Dahir Sadik has reached a crisis point, having been forced to lay off more than half of his staff as the number of children it cares for has plummeted from around 70 to approximately 20 as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

A significant number of parents are teachers now working from home.

“We have lost a lot of business on that,” he said.

Sadik is one of many business owners across the region grappling with an uncertain economic future as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase across the country and governments ponder how to balance a healthy economy and public health.

A child care grant program announced Thursday should help local child care providers like Sadik. The grants, from the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations and created at the request of Gov. Tim Walz, including the Owatonna-based Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, include a total of $300,000 for greater Minnesota child care providers immediately.

SMIF, which serves a 20-county region, is expected to award grants of up to $1,000 to eligible licensed family child care programs and a maximum of $3,000 for licensed center-based programs. To be eligible, providers must be caring for children ages birth to 5 years of parents or guardians who are working in government-identified critical sectors exempt from Walz’s two-week Stay-At-Home order beginning this weekend.

Sadik said the grants will help with payroll, taxes, food, tuition and the morale of the facility’s management team.

“It will just kind of change the whole game,” he said. “It will help us be in business.”

Interested child care providers within the region can complete a short application provided on SMIF’s website, bit.ly/3brC7dS. The organization hopes to provide funding within two weeks of applications being submitted.

“It has been heartbreaking to hear from our child care providers across southern Minnesota as they deal with new challenges as a result of this unprecedented crisis,” said Rae Jean Hansen, SMIF’s vice president of early childhood. “We are honored to be able to play a part in supporting child care businesses as they fill a critical need in our communities by caring for children of emergency and essential personnel.”

‘It’s concerning’

Economic uncertainty and a possible major recession continue to plague the overall U.S. economy as COVID-19 spreads. Local businesses are not immune to the impacts.

Owatonna Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Brad Meier said he’s worried businesses could remain closed for an extended time, with some eventually closing their doors permanently.

“It’s concerning,” he said. “We know that this is going to last for a period of time, and businesses are already closed as part of state closures.”

“That is a loss for our community, for sure,” he added. “Small businesses are our identity and our backbone, and we don’t want to lose them.”

In the meantime, Meier said the Chamber is focused on providing resources to businesses in need and promoting loans available through the Small Business Administration.

He said he’s confident the local economy will rebound following the outbreak, which came at a time Owatonna was welcoming a Costco distribution facility, Minimizer plant and a Rise Modular developer facility. Together, those projects are estimated to create nearly 400 new jobs. Although delays are possible, Meier anticipates the projects will eventually move forward.

He noted Owatonna firm Cybex has donated 200 face masks, Black Forest Ltd. has given 300 to local health systems as they seek to prevent the spread of the virus.

This story has been placed in front of our paywall as a public service. Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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