The scoop on grant funds

What to know before you apply.

Is a grant really free money? According to grants.gov, “a grant is a way the government funds your ideas and projects to provide public services and stimulate the economy.” Grant makers are not magic genies granting your every request with minimal effort. Receiving a grant takes a lot of prep work, regulations, special requirements and reporting.

Non-repayable funds are those that you receive through a grant that don’t have to be repaid. However, be prepared and do your homework before you begin. All work done on the project must be tracked and reported on which can stall the work.

As a community looking to participate in a federally funded grant program for an economic development project, it could take months to years to hammer out all the project details, environmental reviews and the application process. When you finally are able to put a shovel in the ground, you are up against a clock. Typically, there is a two year construction period depending on the grant.

While construction is going on, there are many regulations that need to be followed including Department of Labor’s federal wages and reports that need to be created for the federal government before you can get your funds. Over the construction period, a grant administrator could log hundreds of hours depending on how large the project is.

Consider these questions before applying:

1. Am I willing to put my project on hold for months to potentially years until all paperwork and approvals are complete?
2. Do I want to jump through all the hoops and follow regulations on what I can and cannot do?
3. Does the ratio of time and dollars spent to potential grant monies make sense for my project? For example, in addition to the time delays for approvals, do the increased labor costs justify the added time and expense versus the amount of grant money you will receive? Sometimes the required federal wage can be as much as 30 percent higher than local prevailing wages.

It is a good idea to talk to an expert before beginning a project to see if there is funding available and if the process is worthwhile. Contact your local economic development organization as they have a handle on the various programs, requirements and contacts. Grants can be scary and daunting, but the potential to double your project funds does have its allure.

Michigan State University Extension partner, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, assists companies and communities within their four county service area on administering grants and handling all mandatory reporting and balance of funds. An important part of the process is providing educational sessions to the applicant as to the process and timeline requirement.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.

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