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Simplifying applications for covid-aid loans draws more businesses

by Andrew Moreau | February 7, 2021 at 2:45 a.m.

Just how hard is it to hand out nearly $1 million in low-interest loans?

More difficult than you would think, even during a raging pandemic when small businesses are scrapping for funds and searching for financing that can help them stay alive.

The Central Arkansas Planning and Development District in Lonoke learned to simplify the application process to attract small businesses that could use the organization's revolving loan fund.

"We're finally getting some traction in the past week or so of working with many organizations and leaders to get the word out," said Trevor Villines, regional economic disaster economic recovery coordinator for the organization, which serves Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe and Prairie counties.

That wasn't the case just a week or so ago as the district struggled to bring in applicants for the $910,000 available through federal coronavirus relief. The revolving loan fund is supplied by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which is part of the Commerce Department, to bolster small businesses that have lost profits or suffered economic harm because of the pandemic.

"Money is available for any business that is finding it hard to make it through covid," Villines said.

The district found that simplifying the entry process was key to boosting interest. Rather than introducing potential borrowers to a 30-page application, the district offered a simpler, self-check eligibility list that allowed those interested in a loan to determine if they were even eligible. The form can be downloaded from the district's website and completed in a manner of minutes.

"That simplification really turned everything around," Villines said. "It just made the eligibility and the application process so much easier. People were just overwhelmed with a 30-page application and they just didn't know where to start."

Loans are similar to the more notable, and popular, Paycheck Protection Program though there are major differences -- the biggest being that payments are not forgiven. Borrowers under the revolving loan fund are obligated to repay the proceeds.

Businesses with up to 300 employees can borrow a maximum of $100,000, with an interest rate of 3%, and have up to five years to repay the loan.

Financial assistance can cover a variety of expenses, including working capital, lease payments, payroll shortage, existing real estate, equipment, building renovations and technology upgrades.

Any profitable small business in any economic sector that has been in operation for two years can apply for funding.

There's plenty of money and time to apply -- funding is available until August 2022 unless it runs out first. The district still has more than $700,000 available.

Go to www.capdd.org/cares-act-rlf for more information.

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION

Need information or help building programs that promote diversity and inclusion in your organization?

Join area business leaders and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce at its next Power Up session from 1-2 p.m. on Feb. 16.

The session will outline opportunities to enhance inclusion and diversity efforts as a means to increase business opportunities and provide growth and development for employees. The Feb. 16 session will discuss how to begin a program or expand one already in place.

Business leaders can learn how their organization can strategically invest to promote diversity and create a more inclusive work environment and culture that nurtures all employees.

Panelists on the streaming session will include Marcy Doderer, president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Children's Hospital, and Tad Bahannon, chief executive officer of Central Arkansas Water.

ANOTHER ARVEST RECORD

Arvest Bank, the state's largest privately held bank, announced that its mortgage division originated record volume in 2020, the second consecutive year it set a new mark.

The Fayetteville-based bank had more than $4.6 million in mortgage loans last year, up 67% from 2019. The bank topped $2 billion in mortgage loans for the third straight year.

"We started 2020 with low mortgage rates and one of the effects of covid-19 was that they went even lower, to record lows in some cases," said Steven Plaisance, division president and chief executive officer. "As a result, millions of families nationwide took advantage of those rates, whether they were refinancing or buying a home."

Arvest is different from most local lenders -- the bank services 99% of its mortgage loans. Borrowers make payments directly to Arvest rather than having them packaged and sold to other mortgage service companies. Arvest services more than 336,000 mortgage loans valued at more than $65 billion.

The bank operates more than 270 branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas that serve more than 135 communities.

EXPORT ADVICE

The Arkansas District Export Council is holding two webinars Feb. 17 to help small businesses increase their exporting opportunities. Two-hour sessions will be held beginning at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and will offer tips to expand in international markets.

Small businesses are encouraged to participate in both sessions for a full picture of the opportunities available.

The morning session will focus on four topics: getting ready to export, developing customer relationships, building a global infrastructure and agencies available to help.

In the afternoon, discussion will offer tips on international logistics, managing payments and finance, and navigating regulations and legal issues.

For more details or to register go to exportarkansas.org.

PROMOTING ARKANSAS

The Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism has awarded more than $30,000 in grants to seven organizations to help them promote the state through tours, publications and festivals. Grants ranged from $619 to $5,000.

"Arkansas communities have so much to share through their individual heritage stories," said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the state department. "We are delighted that these grants can provide much needed support so that they can reveal these stories to all Arkansans."

Grants were awarded to Arkansas Quilt Trails Inc. of Mountain View; Lifelong Learning Institute of Hot Springs Village Inc.; the Ozark Society Foundation in Little Rock; Quality of Life Outreach in Mena; the Quapaw Quarter Association in Little Rock; the Siloam Springs Heritage Foundation in Siloam Springs; and Wofford Chapel Church Cemetery Maintenance Organization in Casscoe.

Each year, the department hands out grants of up to $5,000 each to support the development of Arkansas-themed events, projects and activities.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at 501-378-3567.

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