Bel Air Finishing Supply in North Kingstown first tapped state professional-development grants five years ago when the company was making a push for exports and needed to train workers in overseas marketing.
The grants from the Governor’s Workforce Board helped, but the process of getting them was long, complicated and time consuming, said Bel Air President Steven Alviti.
“The grant writing five years ago, you couldn’t do it by yourself, you had to look for someone to help you do it and it was much more involved,” Alviti said. “You had to be creative and tell a story.”
Since then, the state has refined the program and this year began making smaller awards, called “Express” grants, available through a streamlined process each month in addition to the annual awards.
“It was unbelievably useful and surprisingly painless,” Alviti said about the Express grants process, through which Bel Air secured $2,400 to train three engineers in Solid Works computer-design software. “It seemed like they just took out the unnecessary creativity that you had needed to do to get the grant before.”
The Governor’s Workforce Board created the Express grants in response to concerns from businesspeople like Alviti and out of a desire to open the funding up to a wider range of smaller firms.
“We got feedback from small businesses that smaller grants that could be reviewed more quickly and as needed would be helpful,” said Rick Brooks, executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Board. “What we are pleased about is we have heard positive responses. And we have gotten a large percentage of small businesses and a good mix of sectors.”
Like the annual training grants, the new Express grants are funded through employer tax payments into the state’s Jobs Development Fund. The amount of money available each month in grants depends on Jobs Development Fund collections and the amount committed in previous grant rounds.