"Toole County Forward" aims to help people and businesses

Posted at 10:50 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 18:50:06-04

SHELBY — MTN News reported earlier this month on a new program in Toole County that aims to calm the nerves of struggling business owners. These individuals are working to get back on their feet, but are still waiting on federal funding to come through. As part of our continuing "The Rebound:Montana" coverage, MTN reporter Keeley Van Middendorp went to Shelby to see how business owners who are reopening are getting the help they need now- to rebound from the pandemic.

  • Toole County confirmed its sixth COVID-19 death last Wednesday. To date, there have been 29 confirmed cases in Toole County, and 17 patients are now listed as recovered. On a per-capita basis, Toole County has been hit harder than any other county in Montana by the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read more.

“When it (restrictions) first started we were hopeful it’d only be two weeks and then we would move forward,” said Spa 30 Co-Owner LauraLee Aikins. “But, as it (time) progresses it gets scarier.”

Aikins says she and her business partner are both single mothers with kids at home with schools closed. “I’ve got a four-year-old and then a first, second and third grader,” she said. They’ve been working to keep their business afloat after weeks of no revenue. “Both of us have had zero income-since this (restrictions) started,” she said.

Now, a movement is gaining momentum in Toole County as communities start to rebound. “What we do today is what our tomorrow’s gonna look like,” said Toole County Forward founding member and Shelby businessman Dwaine Iverson.

Toole County Forward is a new lending-grant program that aims to help business owners like Aikins who are stuck in a standstill, waiting on federal funds.

“When it comes to businesses and financial burdens, waiting is never your best bet,” said Sunburst Mayor Holly Hovland.

With help from the program, Aikins is hoping to add additional booths to her business and expand hours of operation. “It’s very promising and hopefully quick,” said Aikins.

“We’re excited to be able to help those businesses reopen their doors, pay their utilities, rent, their mortgages, and just have that ability to sustain them as they move forward,” said City of Shelby Community Development Director Lorette Carter.

Iverson said Toole County Forward is one of the only public private partnerships in the state, with the only other in Silver Bow County. “The Department of Commerce was very timely with us in guiding through the process,” said Carter.

The state is matching funds raised from city, county and private entities in the area. “That’ll give us $450,000 to $500,000to help,” said Iverson.

Aikins says she’s grateful for the resiliency of fellow business owners and residents in Toole County as everyone moves forward. “This community has always rallied around each other and will continue to do so,” she said. “But yes it’s very touching to see- and some of them are my clients as well and yeah it’s just fantastic.”

All business owners in Toole county are welcome to apply for help. “Everybody cares about this community and we want our businesses to thrive,” saide Hovland.

They hope to continue the program into the future to grow and revitalize business opportunities even after the community has rebounded.

“We’re gonna have a new normal when we get done,” said Iverson. “So what can we do to make that new normal better in Toole County?”

The first round of funds will be distributed to business owners in Toole county this week.

For more information or to apply, contact Lorette Carter at or 406-434-5222.