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A Q&A with Kelly Schulz, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce

This week, Nevins & Associates President and CEO, David Nevins, sat down with Maryland’s Secretary of Commerce, Kelly Schulz. They discussed Governor Hogan’s $250 million additional COVID-19 relief funding, the new Innovation Uncovered program and more. Below is a condensed version of their conversation:

David Nevins: I was pleased to see the governor made a huge announcement regarding COVID-19 recovery, can you tell me more?

Kelly Schulz: Governor Hogan announced an additional $250 million for Maryland’s COVID-19 relief effort on top of his prior $250 commitment. The additional funding will be used specifically for business relief activities. I’m proud that our state remains on the forefront of helping the business community. The Department of Commerce is funding $50 million for restaurants and providing grants in every district so that they can offer delivery. We wanted to capitalize on existing programs in counties for restaurant relief. We chose restaurant relief because we wanted to provide support as the restaurant industry was among the hardest hit, especially during the colder months since there are restrictions on indoor dining capacity.

We also set aside another $50 million for our existing COVID-19 emergency grant relief fund. So far, of the 20,000 applications we’ve received, we’ve funded over 10,000 of those grants. $95 million has gone into grant relief already and the additional $50 million will be used to fund the other existing applications. Applicants do not need to reapply and as we continue to receive additional funding sources, the applications are there and ready to go and in line to be reviewed by the Department of Commerce staff. We’re also adding $5 million to our small business fund and $2 million for our local tourism offices in hopes to bring back tourism in Maryland.

DN: How will the restaurant grants work?

KS: We’re working directly with our county partners. The grants, which are a part of the $50 million, will go directly to each jurisdiction and the amount of funding will be determined by the number of restaurants in each district. We’re asking that the counties get all funding out by the end of the calendar year, as restaurants will have a tough fall/winter and we want to get them funding as soon as possible. The funds can go towards outdoor heaters, HVAC, carry out, delivery and more. We’re open to what the funding can go towards.

DN: Generally speaking, I know that Maryland is doing better than other states in dealing with COVID-19, can you tell us more?

KS: I’m very excited for the future and getting past this pandemic. In order to get through the economic crisis, we have to manage the health crisis first. I’m happy to report that our unemployment rate is 7.2%, well below the national average and we have the 7th fastest growing economy in the country. In the last five months, we’ve added about 200,000 jobs. Additionally, Maryland’s consumer spending is almost exactly what it was in February before the pandemic.

Having that steady recovery and reopening strategy has been extremely beneficial for Maryland. Of course we’re not totally out of the woods, but we’re well on the way to that economic recovery.

DN: Tell me more about the innovation uncovered program?

KS: At the end of 2019, we talked about putting out a program for entrepreneurs to highlight innovation and technology. Maryland has so many assets: our proximity to federal labs, some of the best universities in the country, and more. We decided to unveil our Innovation Uncovered program. Despite COVID-19, we’ve received numerous applications for the program. We plan on highlighting and supporting the top 20 of those applicants and nominees, called the “Future 20.”

We plan to highlight them, support them and market them so that the rest of the world knows that Maryland is a place for not only larger businesses, but also young entrepreneurs with new fresh, innovative ideas. The Future 20 was announced in mid-November.

In order to be resilient, you have to be innovative. Businesses that were able to pivot and embrace change are the ones that are doing the best. We love highlighting the innovative ways businesses have been able to adjust.

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