WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – More than 18,000 people in Sedgwick County were able to keep their jobs during the pandemic thanks to relief funds.

CARES Act grants were dished out to many small businesses in the early months of the pandemic. The goal was to help them stay open. According to a study from Wichita State University (WSU), Sedgwick County handed out $6.4 million, saved jobs, income, and in some cases, entire businesses like Connie’s Mexico Cafe.

“When everything hit, it was just a mess,” said Carmen Garcia, a co-owner of Connie’s Mexico Cafe.

One of the owners of Connie’s Mexico Cafe said when the pandemic started, they had to put all employees on unemployment and shut down for more than a month. She said they were one of the first to apply for CARES Act funds.

“That was able to hold us down for a little [bit of] time. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it was enough to get us through,” said Garcia about the multiple grants they were able to receive to help out.

With the additional dollars, they were able to reopen, put employees to work, and focus on carry-out orders.

“We are still feeling the ripple effect of that, but we are making it work,” said Garcia.

“Being able to go to a local restaurant and support local business that’s a big deal. Small business is the backbone of our economy, and for us to be able to help them and support them – I just wish we could have done more,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse, who requested to study the funds.

Thanks to CARES Act funds dished out in Sedgwick County, 56 new jobs were created, and more than 18,000 jobs were retained. That lead to a $2.16 billion economic output from the retention.

“Giving those resources that time gave them the ability to respond fast in a healthy, fast manner. It leveraged them so they also could pivot as firms are saying they need different jobs than they did before,” said Jeremy Hill, the director for the Center of Economic Development and Business Research at WSU.

Hill said this is the first study on pandemic assistance money in Sedgwick county and is solely focused on the $6.4 million for small businesses.

The CARES small business impact study conducted by WSU: