Officials are preparing to issue up to $4.3 million to support small businesses in hopes of supplementing larger state and federal initiatives.
Before the month is over, the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County plans on setting up a system to facilitate more than $4 million in loans to small businesses affected by COVID-19.
The County Commission authorized the Small Business Resiliency Loan program at an April 8 meeting, voting 4-1 to set aside $4.3 million in economic incentive funds for the initiative.
The maximum loan amount is $25,000, which means at least 172 businesses could receive money through the program. The loans are interest-free and require no payments for the first year and can be paid off over a three-year term at a 3.5% interest rate. The commission dedicated 35 loans for licensed child-care facilities and directed the EDC to disperse the money by May 1.
That gives the EDC just more than three weeks to develop an application process and collaborate with the county on procedures for distributing the money. Dave Bullock, interim CEO of the EDC, said the EDC hoped to launch applications after the April 22 County Commission meeting.
“While the whole emphasis here is speed, it’s also public money, so there’s a significant responsibility,” Bullock said. “It’s not just, knock on the door, ‘Take a check.’”
The EDC helped advise the commission on the creation of the loan program. On March 24, the county directed the EDC to investigate possible uses for economic incentive funds for COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Shortly afterward, the EDC held a series of listening sessions with representatives from different sectors of the local economy.
During those conversations, Bullock said it became clear that the county’s recovery investments would be a small fraction of the resources the state and federal governments could offer.
“We have a relatively small amount of money,” Bullock said. “We’re not going to help the 500-employee or 800-employee company much with our $4.3 million, so let’s focus where we can help the most.”
The EDC intends for the application to build on the application for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, adding one page for information the county needs for its program. More information about the Small Business Resiliency Loan program is available at the EDC website.