Hamilton’s $300K gift certificate program keeping businesses open during coronavirus shutdown

If the city of Hamilton hadn’t given $300,000 that allowed the Hamilton Economic Development Corporation to provide cash infusions to dozens of city businesses, Angel Smith doesn’t know what would be the state of her pet-grooming business.

But Smith, owner of A&A Pretty Pets, does know this: Without Hamilton’s money, “I would be sitting with my shop rent and electric not paid at all.”

“We are completely closed down due to COVID-19,” said Smith, who employs A.J. Hoskins, a groomer with nine years’ experience. “It is literally our only source of income, is the grooming salon.”

The company at 229 Main St. applied for a loan through the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program, but it hasn’t received an update about the application status, other than that it was received, Smith said.

“And I put mine in whenever the SBA loans first dropped for Ohio,” she said.

“If it wasn’t for the city of Hamilton, we would be even more stressed out.

Other businesses have expressed gratefulness for the financial assistance they’ve received from HEDC, an arm of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

Under plans developed by the city and Dan Bates, president and CEO of the chamber, HEDC will sell thousands of gift certificates for companies in amounts of $25 or $50 for now and perhaps years until the money is recouped so it can be reused by HEDC to foster further economic development in Hamilton.

The businesses will participate in the program by providing food, goods or services to customers who buy the gift certificates. But because the city and chamber want the program to serve as a temporary loan, gift certificates cannot be redeemed until June 1.

The gift certificates can be purchased at www.hamiltongiftcards.com.

Bates declined this week to reveal how much of the $300,000 each of the companies received, the amounts any businesses requested, or names of people who made HEDC’s decisions of how much money each business would receive. Media organizations, including the Journal-News, regularly ask for details about the spending of government funds such as these.

Mayor Pat Moeller said he was not concerned that HEDC wasn’t disclosing how much various companies received.

“HEDC is pretty much a private entity. It’s their decision. It was their committee that conducted all the reviews of the applications,” Moeller said. “I don’t know exactly what their reasoning is. I would imagine those applications were meant to be private.”

“I just don’t want there to be any kind of implications of, well, if this company got X, they’re struggling more than company Y, or something like that. I don’t know what their exact reasoning is, but I’m just trying to think what their reasoning might be.”

Moeller said the program was a way to help small businesses when they need it most.

They’re so super-important to a city the size of Hamilton — for employment, for quality of life,” he said.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, the city’s economy was growing but still remained fragile after years of challenges, Moeller said.

By returning to the non-profit HEDC, the money can be reused for economic-development that helps Hamilton, Moeller said. He said at one point, probably decades ago, HEDC “was very, very active in economic development.”

Bates on Thursday released the entity’s last federal tax Form 990, which listed its officers, directors, trustees and key employees as of 2018, the last filing it has made. Bates did not fulfill a Journal-News request for the current list.

The list submitted to the Internal Revenue Service for calendar year 2018 was: Joe Belew, the past chairman; Bates, secretary; Cynamon Trokhan, chairman; Rich Bethart, trustee; Jason Crank, trustee; Rich Demmel, treasurer; Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson, trustee; Moeller, trustee; City Manager Joshua Smith, trustee; Sara Vallandingham, trustee; Charles Young, trustee; Marni Durham, vice chair; Ryan Stitzel, trustee; Vincent Jackson, trustee; and Larry Knapp, trustee.

Smith told the Journal-News he was no longer a trustee. Other changes might have happend to the board since the latest federal tax form was filed.

“Dan (Bates) asked me to get off in 2020, since I had not participated in HEDC since 2017,” he said,

Moeller said he remains a trustee, but had not been involved “with any of their meetings involving this.”

Bates emphasized the HEDC’s board was not the committee that decided how much each business received. He said that committee was made up of members of the non-profit, business and financial communities.

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