RALEIGH — The recipients of a $60.5 million state grant program for businesses and nonprofits hurt by COVID-19 include at least a dozen large companies headquartered in other states, 22 country clubs and golf clubs, eight churches and several advocacy and trade groups like the NC Chamber.
The Job Retention Grants’ requirement that recipients must have kept at least 90% of their pre-COVID staffing levels meant that only a few of the hardest-hit businesses — such as restaurants, hotels, nail salons and bars — got any help.
The list of recipients, provided by the NC Department of Commerce, matches concerns voiced months ago about the program’s requirements. To qualify, businesses and nonprofits need to have avoided most layoffs and only need to show that their revenues decreased by at least 10%.
Organizations that already received assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program or other state aid programs weren’t eligible.
That effectively limited the grants to businesses and nonprofits that experienced mild hardships due to the pandemic. Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper sought to instead fund grants to cover rent and utility payments for struggling businesses, but Republican lawmakers said the job retention requirement was modeled after the PPP, and removing it could create constitutional challenges.
The largest beneficiary of the grant program is the international logistics firm XPO, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Connecticut. Four of its affiliated companies received a total of $769,258.
The grants are capped at $250,000 per business, but some with multiple separate corporate entities submitted applications for each of them.
XPO did not respond to questions from the NC Insider about how the pandemic has harmed its business.
Other large out-of-state companies that received the $250,000 amount: CSX Transportation, Grifols Therapeutics, Honda Aero, Honda Power Equipment Manufacturing, Husqvarna Professional Products, Kohl’s, Mattress Firm, Mitsubishi Materials, Spirit AeroSystems, Talecris Plasma Resources and Vitamin Shoppe Industries.
Golf courses and country clubs
The most common phrase in the list of 425 recipients was “country club.”
A total of 22 country clubs and golf clubs, as well as one yacht club, received a total of $5.45 million, about 9% of the grant program’s funding. Most qualified for the full amount of $250,000.
Del Ratcliffe, president of the NC Golf Course Owners Association, said that while golf courses have benefited from the increasing popularity of the sport during the pandemic, social distancing concerns have prompted big tournaments to be canceled, and many clubs that have indoor dining and event facilities have lost revenue.
Destination golf courses such as Pinehurst have taken a hit with the reduction in travel, he said. But overall, “the majority of our courses managed to keep their staffing,” and layoffs haven’t been a major concern, Ratcliffe said. “We have been able to keep people employed even though we are operating under different circumstances.”
Several advocacy and trade organizations received grants, including the NC Chamber, NC Medical Society, NC Psychiatric Association and the NC Association of School Administrators.
NCASA Executive Director Katherine Joyce explained in an email that the pandemic “has forced the cancellation of several statewide conferences and professional development meetings that not only help our members retain their job licenses but also help fund our annual operations. In addition, those cancellations led to reduced support from our corporate partners and sponsors that pay to attend those events. That one-two punch has created a difficult financial year from which we hope the job retention grant will help us recover.”
The Chamber said its $250,000 grant will go toward employee salaries “so we could continue serving the business community during a time when our members depend on our work more than ever.”
Outside of country clubs, only a few hospitality businesses and industries that were shut down got grants.
Only one hair or nail salon, Fantasy Nails of Winston-Salem, got a grant, and it only qualified for $2,104. Beaufort County’s El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant was among only a few eateries on the list, receiving about $50,000 for its two locations.
Lynn Minges of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association said the Job Retention Grants “didn’t do a whole lot to help our industry.”
Minges said the hospitality industry is working on aid proposals for next year’s legislative session and is hoping Congress will approve another round of the Paycheck Protection Program.
“There are just so many businesses that aren’t going to make it through the winter,” she said, adding that most restaurants and hotels are still losing money every day.