Nearly $3 million has been allotted in grants from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to local businesses in Sandoval County.

According to Director of County Business and Economic Development Dora Dominguez, from the CARES Act, Sandoval County was awarded about $965,000 and local municipalities were awarded the following amounts:
• City of Rio Rancho: about $466,000,
• Town of Bernalillo: about $1.1 million,
• Village of Corrales: about $255,600, and
• Village of Cuba: about $32,800.

“By working together, the community can be assured that each local government accomplished the task of ensuring these funds were issued to local eligible businesses, and now these new monies are beginning to circulate within our local economy,” Dominguez said.

From September to December, the county was able to approve $964,500 worth of grants to 71 businesses and will return less than $500 in CARES money to the state, she said.

The one-time grants for up to $20,000 can be distributed once the Sandoval County Commission approves receipt and allocation of these funds at the Jan. 14 meeting, Dominguez said.

The City of Rio Rancho allocated its full amount of funds Dec. 18 and began referring businesses to the county to apply for a grant, she said.

“That’s probably when the flood gates started opening from the City of Rio Rancho, and we ended up funding 31 applications from the City of Rio Rancho. That started from the middle of December, so it was a really good partnership,” Dominguez said.

For businesses to qualify for a grant, they have to be in good tax standing with the state. Early on, the company could not have made revenue of $2 million the prior year.

“We pushed back on that a little bit because we felt that there’s some pretty successful businesses that may have done phenomenal business in 2019 or even use 2018 financials and shouldn’t be penalized for exceeding 2 million,” she said.

The New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration raised the revenue limit to $5 million.

“Yeah so, the state Department of Finance and Administration was very helpful,” Dominguez said.

Cathy Awe is the owner of Chill Zone Frozen Yogurt near Albertsons, and she was approved for the grant. Money from the grant will help her cover about half the shop’s fixed expenses over four months, she said.

“The process that Sandoval County set up was straightforward and the funds are very much needed and appreciated,” Awe said. “Along with some very supportive customers who go out of their way to frequent my small businesses and this grant, the Chill Zone Frozen Yogurt is doing OK and we expect to make it through this difficult time.”

The pandemic has changed the way Dominguez has approached her job, she said.

“I’ve always been aware of the challenges there are to running a business, because my entire professional career has been in New Mexico; additionally, with the regulatory constraints New Mexico presents, it’s additionally challenging,” Dominguez said. “I’ve always been sympathetic to that and I have been a small-business owner myself, so I’ve always had both sympathy and empathy.”

COVID articulated those challenges businesses face, she said. Through the pandemic, Dominguez has gained a greater understanding of local economy and businesses.

“Being on the front lines, being the person on the other end of the call because you’re searching for ways to keep your people on your payroll, to keep your rent and electricity and everything running in your business, and anticipating being at 100 percent of your operation, it was eye-opening,” Dominguez said.

COVID has changed the way entrepreneurs plan for their business, she said. Looking to the future, the county has identified the best way to contact business owners and market to them.

“The City of Rio Rancho, I think, is pretty amazing in that there was a very good network where they found the program and shared information with other businesses. I had five to 10 calls a day where they said they heard from another business,” Dominguez said.

The county also had success in sharing information on Nextdoor and Facebook. The county’s accounts can be found by searching “Sandoval County” in the respective sites’ search bars.

Staff writer at Rio Rancho Observer