OGDEN — When the dust has all cleared, the state of Utah will likely spend more than $1 billion to help keep businesses afloat during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And while those funds will continue to be spent through the end of the year, one Ogden area nonprofit is getting creative to supplement the government aid.
Earlier this year, Utah received $1.25 billion as part of the federal government’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was established with the CARES Act. The state continues to give the money out to counties and municipalities using a population-based formula through the end of 2020. Ogden City has been using some $10 million in CARES funds to help cover virus-related shortfalls between necessary business expenses and existing funding sources for local businesses and nonprofits.
One of the nonprofits to receive some of that money in Junction City is the Ogden Downtown Alliance. And as the pandemic enters its 10th month, ODA has developed a new program specifically designed to drive business to small, Ogden-based establishments.
Using dollars that under normal circumstances would exclusively go toward live events, ODA has been supporting select Ogden residents, stipulating that the money must be spent at local small businesses in Ogden’s downtown, followed by a social-media chronicling of the experience which is then posted on ODA’s Instagram page. The result is not only direct business for the Ogden establishments, program officials say, but also free advertising.
Kim Bowsher, executive director of ODA, said participants in the program were selected after submitting essays on why they love Ogden. She said the social media component, which includes tagging local businesses, is the modern version of a direct business referral.
“A direct referral, especially from someone you know and trust, is better than advertising,” Bowsher said.
According to its website, ODA is committed to increasing economic vitality and community throughout Ogden’s Central Business District, which includes all land from 20th to 27th streets between Wall and Adams avenues. The nonprofit supports local commerce mainly through marketing efforts and community programming and events.
Bowsher said the new program was basically a case of necessity being the mother of invention. With no live events to speak of as COVID-19 cases have spiked during the year, ODA essentially shifted its entire live event budget to the program.
“If you’re broke, you have to get clever,” Bowsher said. “But we’ve always kind of done stuff on a shoestring budget, so we’re somewhat used to it.”
Ogden City has also contributed to the program, according Ogden City Communications Manager Mike McBride, funding some paid for promotional content.
While Bowsher said the ODA program admittedly can’t match the massive amount of federal government dollars being pumped into Ogden, nonprofits and private industry also play an integral role in keeping the economy from falling apart during the pandemic.
“It takes a communitywide effort,” McBride said.
Robyn Stark, who owns The Queen Bee bookstore on Historic 25th Street, said ODA’s program has already created a new buzz on the street, with businesses there promoting the idea.
“As business owners, when we collaborate on sales, advertising and promotion, I feel it develops a stronger message,” she said.
Bowsher urges those living in the greater Ogden area to be “intentional” when shopping, especially during the pandemic. It’s a method she says involves being conscious about where you spend your dollars and shopping at places or purchasing brands with values that align with yours, with an emphasis on supporting local business. She said small businesses have been impacted more than most big box stores, so a collective shift in mindset that involves thinking about what a person wants in their community will go a long way to help local small business economics.
“Just drive along Riverdale Road and look at the lines,” Bowsher said. “People are still spending money. But right now, more than ever, we need to be supporting our local businesses. To be in business 20 years and to know a grant is what’s keeping you going — that’s tough.”