The Toole County Forward program is off to a terrific start as businesses are embarking on the adventure of re-opening after being closed for weeks.
“Toole County Forward has started distributing assistance funds for area businesses,” said Community Development Director Lorette Carter. “To date, six businesses have been assisted and the total funds distributed so far is $45,000.”
The program was created locally to help Toole County businesses re-open successfully and the opportunity is still there for any business owner who may need it. A business plan is required and paperwork is involved, but Rich Gannon, of Great Falls Development Authority, located in Cut Bank, is happy to assist anyone who needs help with the process.
“I have been able to meet virtually with all of my Toole County clients via Zoom, which has been working out well. I can give businesses access to a great business planning tool called Live Plan,” said Gannon. “
By using Zoom I'm able to share my screen and show the business owners exactly how to use Live Plan to create their business plans. Lorette and I have created a custom business plan template in Live Plan that helps a business address some specific questions that Toole County Forward is asking of businesses,” he added.
Loralee Aikins, Spa 30 business owner, is one of the six who has applied and received assistance from the program. Aikins said working with Gannon was incredibly helpful and the business choice to take advantage of this opportunity was a good one.
“Rich was incredibly helpful and walked me through the process,” said Aikins. “The application itself was very easy. Overall, a pleasant and fairly fast process I would recommend to anyone within Toole County who is struggling to make it financially or looking to expand their business.”
Thanks to the Toole County Forward funds Spa 30 will be able to add the equipment needed for some new booth renters that are lined up to start soon.
“Due to COVID 19 we were unable to be open for a length of time,” explained Aikins. “We were feeling pretty strapped financially. We would've been unable to add the equipment we would need after depleting our finances during the forced closure.”
Frontier Bar and Supper Club owners Michelle Billedeaux and her husband
are able to keep moving forward with re-opening thanks to Toole County Forward funding.
“We applied for assistance from Toole County Forward after speaking with our accountant,” said Billedeaux. “Due to our business being closed unexpectedly we lost a considerable amount of income and our employees were laid off with no notice. Receiving this funding hasmade it possible for us to open up again for takeout and hiring about half of our staff back. It also assisted with some of the costs of necessary supplies to reopen for dine-in service, although they have been hard to find. We are looking at opening up for dining in on or around Wednesday, May 27. If we wouldn't have gotten help from Toole County Forward I'm afraid we might not have been able to reopen at all.”
Melissa Flesch, owner of Stilettos Salon, is very grateful for the program funding as it made it possible for her to make up for loss wages and stay on track for the business expansion Stilettos has coming in the near future.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Flesch. “People need to take advantage of the help that is there.”
Gannon is impressed with the program to date, stating “This is a great program that is developed and administered by local people who are looking to help local businesses. I have been very impressed by the leadership in Shelby and Toole County for putting together a responsive system that addresses local issues in such a timely manner.”
It has been said over and over throughout the COVID crisis that “we are in this together” and this program is just one example of how true that statement is. Those who have donated to Toole County Forward have made it possible for those struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Any small business in Toole County who has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis should apply,” said Billedeaux. “It is an amazing program. I can't tell you how grateful it makes me feel to live in this wonderful community of ours.”
“We are truly grateful and humbled by the support of those who are involved in Toole County Forward and all the people who have donated money towards this cause,” added Aikins. “This is an incredible opportunity given by a generous Toole County support system.”
There is still time to apply and funding available for businesses throughout Toole County. Applications and more information can be found at City Hall and Gannon is available and happy to help anyone wanting to apply.
Foundation assistance applications and guidelines are available through:
• Toole County Community Foundation, 301 First St. So., Shelby;
• Office of Community Development, Shelby City Hall, 112 First St. So., Shelby;
• Lorette Carter at Shelby City Hall (406) 434-5222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Rich Gannon by calling or texting (406) 836-2078 or by email at RGannon@GrowGreatFalls.org.