St. Pete set out to provide relief to small businesses impacted by local COVID-19 orders through its Fighting Chance Fund – an emergency grant for locally-owned and independently-operated small businesses hurt by stay-at-home orders.
In order to stem the losses to businesses and individuals, St. Pete had to speed up its usual process for distributing grants, removing and consolidating steps while balancing a need for compliance and transparency. To help build a better workflow, the City turned to OpenGov for its expertise and workflow solution.
OpenGov worked with the St. Pete’s team to quickly implement a fully-digital, internet-based application process that enabled teams to work quickly, collaboratively, and remotely. Together, teams approved 2,356 applications from local businesses and individuals and distributed millions of dollars in the moment of need.
“The challenge of identifying community funding needs and allocating funds efficiently and transparently forced us to rethink everything. With OpenGov we simplified the applicant experience and the workflow for our staff, while maintaining the right level of data for compliance reporting and transparency.”
Anne Fritz, CFO, City of St. Petersburg, FL
$6.2 million distributed to businesses and individuals
Cut turnaround time by 75% (businesses) & 90% (individuals)
2,356 applications processed with limited staff
Adopted OpenGov to improve multiple grant workflows
A Looming Crisis Demands a New Approach
When the pandemic hit, the City anticipated the shutdown would ultimately impact 800 businesses and 3,000 individuals. The challenge for the City was making grants available to all those in need, in the moment of need, while staff across departments were working remotely.
To understand the full scope of this challenge, it’s important to understand how an application was submitted and processed prior to the pandemic. Previously, applicants were required to submit paper applications in person, and there were steps in the process that required literal steps: the transport of interoffice mail between buildings, usually by foot. With the shutdown, the team had to create a new, fully digital experience for applications and for their own remote teams.
The City gathered a cross-functional group to rethink their grant application process, which CFO Anne Fritz described as “circular” with paperwork cycling between departments, and back again, to ensure compliance, transparency, and payment processing. The circular process often took 3-4 weeks from the submission of the paper application to the check being mailed.
Pre-Pandemic Grant Application Workflow:
Working with OpenGov as a partner, the City’s working group conceptualized a new process and built a user-friendly workflow with OpenGov in six days, all while working remotely. The team cut the turnaround time from application to payment by 75% for businesses and over 90% for individuals by removing steps and accelerating the payment process.
New Grant Application Workflow:
“The OpenGov team stepped in like our knight in shining armor, helping guide us with their understanding of government processes. They helped us translate our past process into a more efficient and user-friendly workflow, and got us up and running in a matter of weeks.”
Sarah Hughart, Economic Development Specialist, St. Petersburg, FL
Getting Creative While Staying Compliant
As government compliance leaders know well, it’s never simple to change a workflow. Key questions and challenges emerge around documentation and data privacy.
Once the St. Pete’s IT team had given a thorough assessment of the platform, Finance and Compliance partnered to figure out which data was needed for the audit trail, as well as which data would be useful to surface to enable external reporting.
“The OpenGov platform structure allowed us to have specific documentation required from grantees and specific workflow to ensure compliance with City policies and regulatory requirements for payment processing.”
Erika Langhans, Controller, City of St. Petersburg, FL.
A key benefit of OpenGov was that the City was already using the Reporting and Transparency platform to surface key financial metrics for internal use and for sharing with Council and the community.
“The reporting enabled the City employees to monitor volume to ensure the City is both efficiently approving and processing payments as well as ensuring effective communication to all communities within our City. As a bonus we have recently started fieldwork with our external audit firm and can easily download executed grant application agreements from OpenGov to support the disbursement audit trail,” adds Erika.
Real-Time Reporting and Transparency
The Finance and Economic Development teams easily created dashboards that automatically pulled the most up-to-date information about applications and approvals, surfacing key details about who was receiving funding and whom they were missing.
St. Pete’s Business Economic Stimulus (Map View with OpenGov):
Internally, teams were tracking where the pins were to determine where they needed to focus communications and outreach efforts. They were able to share this externally with Council and the community using OpenGov dashboards and Stories (a simple website publishing platform for showcasing real-time data and analytics).
“We were able to visually see where there were gaps and help close those with outreach and marketing. We also were able to show Council members data about their districts so they could help get the message out. This was a game changer for us to show the impact, reflect the equitable distribution, and build trust.”
Jessica Eilerman, Small Business Liaison, City of St. Petersburg, FL
A New, Better Way Forward
A fundamental rethinking of workflows has sparked new ideas about how teams across the City of St. Petersburg can collaborate and serve their community with OpenGov. Since the rollout of the new workflow for the Fighting Chance Fund, St. Pete has expanded its use of the platform and streamlined processes for two new city programs.
OpenGov was thrilled to partner with the innovative teams at the City of St. Petersburg to build out this timely and valuable use case. “As cities and counties look to reactivate their economies we are here to help fundamentally advance the way teams work and to unlock the intellectual capital of local governments to help them better serve their communities,” says David Reeves, President of OpenGov.
“We are really happy to partner with OpenGov, the unique skill set of the team and willingness to work quickly was critical to the success of the program,” adds Anne Fritz, St. Pete’s CFO.
About St. Petersburg, FL
St. Petersburg sits on the serene waters of Tampa Bay on Florida’s gulf coast. It’s called the “Sunshine City”, but there’s plenty to do indoors as well. The City is home to the Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Mahaffey Theater, and the Florida Orchestra. It regularly tops lists of best food towns in the South.
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