SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — It’s one of the largest employers in Georgia and is still recovering from pandemic hardships. A multi-million dollar grant from the state will soon be open for the hospitality industry to help with some of those issues.

“We were hit first by the pandemic,” said Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association. “We were hit hard and we’re among the last to recover.”

In May, Governor Brian Kemp passed the $150 million Save Georgia Hotels Grant, which the GHLA started asking for a year ago. It’s money from the American Rescue Plan Act to help recoup the industry’s workforce.

“I think that was a stunning victory for the industry and I think we’re going to make a huge difference in the time to come,” Sprouse said. “We’ll get back to the good days. We’ll see 2019 all over again and then go from there.”

While tourists are back booking hotels, many owners are still struggling to have enough staff to handle the demand. Owners said the grant will help them keep a strong workforce.

“During the pandemic of course, we had to let them go because of the lack of business,” said Mark Friday, owner of the Planter’s Inn in Savannah. This is going to enable us to number one, keep the employees that we have right now and be able to hopefully get more employees out here to help within the hotel.”

“We’ve tried not to cut down on our customer service as best we can,” Friday said. “Whereas we may have had two or three desk clerks working in the afternoon, we’re down to one now and we have some of the administrative staff that pitches in every now and then.”

Hotels that opened before the pandemic and can prove they had losses between 2019-2020 are eligible to apply. Sprouse said GHLA is still working on opening the portal for applications but expects them to fill quickly.

With added concerns about rising gas prices affecting summer travel, hotel owners said the grant is coming at the right time.