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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2021
Recognizing the contributions small businesses make to the community, Acton officials and residents have banded together to support the local economy through several initiatives over the past year.
To help local businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial strain, Acton established a small business grant program, eased regulations to allow for more outdoor operations, temporarily reduced liquor-license fees, initiated a social media campaign to support restaurants, and partnered with neighboring towns to seek grant money. These efforts are intended to give businesses more financial and regulatory breathing room, and to boost their morale.
“What stood out is how much the small businesses are part of the community and help create our identity,” said Town Manager John Mangiaratti. “Our local businesses are what people know about Acton. The business owners are a critical part of the fabric of our community.”
Acton created its small business grant program in April to give businesses up to $4,000 each to help cover expenses. The town initially planned to use federal Coronavirus Relief Funds, but officials learned that while the program qualified under federal rules, it wouldn’t meet state guidelines. To save the program, officials proposed spending more than $165,000 from free cash reserves for 43 small-business grants. On Sept. 8, a special Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to spend the money. Before the vote, residents cheered business owners who got up to speak about the proposal.
“Even before the motion had passed, the people that were there from small businesses, I think, felt really supported,” Mangiaratti said. “Through the crisis, we’ve developed a much closer relationship with many of our businesses.”
Board of Selectmen Chair Jon Benson said, “It was a real shot in the arm and brought the best out of the community.”
Besides the grant program, the town also allowed restaurants to sell groceries; made it easier for restaurants to offer takeout and outdoor dining and for retail businesses to operate outside; suspended enforcement of temporary signage bylaws; and reimbursed 25% of last year’s liquor-license fees.
In April, Acton launched the #TakeOutSelfie social media campaign to encourage residents to get restaurant takeout and delivery. The town posted a list of restaurants that remained open and encouraged residents to take selfies of themselves getting takeout.
The town partnered with Boxborough, Littleton, Maynard and Westford to obtain $1.6 million in CARES Act Community Development Block Grant funds to pay for 100 forgivable loans of up to $10,000 to microenterprise businesses with fewer than five employees, child care subsidies of up to $5,000 per child for local families, and $40,000 per community to support food pantry services.
Acton has also produced a series of videos highlighting the benefits of living and working in town and initiated a “buy local” campaign. The Board of Selectmen recently supported another 25% reduction in liquor-license fees, with an option for payments over time.
Officials said these initiatives will help the town’s future economic development efforts and bolster its reputation as a good business community.
“A lot of the things that we did were not that groundbreaking or new,” Mangiaratti said. “I think that it’s important for us to show the business folks that we’re trying, and we’re trying different ways, and we’re getting feedback on the different ways that they think would be helpful.”
For more information, contact Town Manager John Mangiaratti at email@example.com.