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The Skagit County Board of Commissioners received an update Friday on the county’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

The county has set aside $1 million from its American Rescue Plan Act funding to help businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic. The Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) is making recommendations on how the county should use the funds.

After an initial presentation in September from EDASC CEO John Sternlicht, the commissioners asked Sternlicht to gather more information from businesses on the challenges they face and how the county can help.

On Friday, Sternlicht shared the results of a survey of 176 businesses.

Respondents said workforce and hiring — specifically challenges meeting desired wages and finding enough trained workers — was their top challenge. Child care and housing has also affected the ability to access workers.

Technology training was another challenge, as was access to capital, such as grants and loans.

Sternlicht offered ideas to address the labor issue, such as return-to-work programs for parents who left the workforce during the pandemic, and those previously incarcerated.

He said these programs offer mentorship and training to workers and can turn into full-time jobs.

Another idea is for the county to offer a one-time bonus to incentivize people to return to work, as other states have done, he said.

To provide child care for working parents, Sternlicht suggested businesses could come together and form a child care cooperative. Another possibility is to provide child care subsidies.

In the area of technology, ideas include grants to help businesses improve their websites, e-commerce platforms, social media pages and data management.

EDASC is partnering with the Northwest Innovation Resource Center in January to offer two data analytics courses.

To increase access to capital, ideas include a seed funding program for new businesses, and a program to help underserved communities access more financial resources.

The county commissioners said they support many of the ideas.

Sternlicht is set to present a final version of the economic recovery plan on Dec. 21.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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