The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce heard a presentation on the city’s economy, named Tim Dillon and Greg Meyer as the people of the year and premiered a 2020 “Year in Review” video during a Wednesday luncheon, the chamber’s first since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The event, which was well-attended, was hosted at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, where tables were limited to three people each and were spaced apart.
“Thank you guys so much for being here today. It’s just great to see everybody,” Pamela Parker, president of the chamber board of directors, said. “I will ask for your grace in advance because it has been a whole year and I think I’ve forgotten how to speak in front of a group of individuals.”
The work of the Soldotna Chamber to support Soldotna businesses throughout the pandemic was highlighted in a 2020 “Year in Review” video shown at the luncheon, during which chamber staff spoke on the success of programs like its Shop Local initiative.
The chamber honored Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director Tim Dillon and Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Executive Director Greg Meyer as 2020 people of the year, noting contributions both made to the community over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis acknowledged the work Dillon put into translating policy decisions made about COVID relief funding for peninsula municipalities to help them plan programs that would best help their communities.
The chamber thanked Meyer for the food bank’s efforts to combat food insecurity across the peninsula. The organization has distributed food on a regular basis to community members with financial assistance, in part, from cities’ CARES Act money.
Soldotna Director of Economic Development and Planning John Czarnezki also gave updates on how the city plans to use the remainder of its CARES Act dollars while it waits to see exactly how much additional funding the city will get via the American Rescue Plan.
Czarnezki said the city has about $1.9 million left of the CARES Act funds, which must be spent by the end of the year. Using those funds, the city will offer an outdoor dining grant program and use $50,000 to expand the Virtual Storefront Improvement Program, which awards grants aimed at helping businesses improve their online presence. The program was launched last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The programs were developed by a working group that included Soldotna city administration, city businesses and civic organizations.
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council last month that whatever is leftover once those programs end can be used to launch a Shop Local Program at the end of the year. That program would be similar to one offered by Soldotna at the end of 2020, which saw 2,800 shoppers and 58 businesses generate more than $850,000 in local spending.
The city’s Outdoor Dining Grant Program, which is accepting applications through June 30, attempts to encourage dining at Soldotna business in a way that is COVID-friendly. The program offers grants of up to $15,000 to install or improve well-ventilated and safe outdoor dining areas.
Allowable expenditures eligible for reimbursement under the program include tables and chairs, barricades, umbrellas and awnings, landscaping, planning and design fees and lighting, among other things.
“One of the other things that we hope this program does is provide a place for some of those folks that may not be comfortable yet dining indoors,” Czarnezki said. “We know that there’s a lot of folks out there that perhaps aren’t at that place yet, and so hopefully this gives them a place to go while still spending some dollars in our local economy.”
More information about the program and a link to the application can be found on the city’s website at soldotna.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.