Like a careful gardener, the role of a local Economic Development Authority (EDA) is to water the seeds of its community’s economic future and, with luck, watch them grow into successful businesses.
One influential service provided by EDA is the allocation of funds through loan and grant programs. If awarded at the right time, these funds will give businesses the boost they need to get off the ground.
This year, Blue Earth EDA has seen a surge of interest in its various lending programs. In 2022, it has allocated a cumulative total of $75,000 in forgivable loan funds and $47,660.20 in other grant programs.
It’s also implementing a brand new program this year: the Home Provider Grant, designed to help local childcare providers fund improvements to their home businesses, which are suffering a lot of wear and tear.
This year, a total of 18 Blue Earth companies have received financial awards from EDA. Refresh Salon and Spa, owned by Shawna and Mike Hannaman, is one of them.
The salon is one of three businesses receiving a $25,000 forgivable loan from EDA in 2022. The purpose of the program is to facilitate and support the continuation of Blue Earth’s existing businesses.
Hannamans applied for a loan after purchasing the Classic Cuts Salon. They are using the funds to partially fund the installation of new chairs, pharmacy sinks, washing machines, half walls, sunbeds and signage, as well as new products and interior paint in the salon.
The estimated cost of the improvements was $75,000, with $50,000 of the couple’s own funds and $25,000 on loan from EDA.
Hannaman shared plans for improvements that are currently underway.
“Come in, (the loan) is a huge help,” Hanneman said. “It’s amazing how much money is available in a small town.”
Michele Hard, owner of Michele’s Sewing and Quilting Center, applied for a different EDA program: the Business Improvement Loan Program.
After relocating to the former Ankeny Furniture Building, Hard used the funds to fund the many improvements she made to the space.
Last spring, Hard repainted the store’s interior, installed new lighting, ceiling tile and carpet, repainted the floors and remodeled the bathrooms. She also put up new signage and awnings outside.
She paid for the installation of the awning with funds awarded by EDA.
Hard said she had known about EDA’s loan program for some time, and decided it would be a good idea to ask about funding for one of her projects.
“It’s always good to know what your options are and if you can get help with any updates,”she says.
Other EDA boards in the county offer similar opportunities to local businesses.
Wells EDA offers a number of loan and grant programs, including commercial building improvement grants that businesses can use to improve their buildings, a revolving loan fund, and a child care forgivable loan program to help create new permits and provide local families with Premium childcare places.
The Board of Directors also launched a new grant opportunity: the COVID-19 Loss of Income Relief Fund, to help area businesses experiencing loss of income during the pandemic. Wells allocated $25,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the program, with eligible businesses receiving up to $5,000.
For 2022, Wells EDA allocated $16,899.55 in commercial building improvement grants, $7,000 in revolving loan funds, and $2,000 in COVID-19 loss of income relief funds.
Winnebago EDA also offers several programs, including the Outside Grant Program, a dollar-for-dollar matching program with grants up to $6,000, and revolving loan funding. In 2022, EDA allocated $74,000 to nine area businesses: $33,000 in external grant funding and $41,000 in revolving loan funding.
Amy Schaefer, an EDA expert at Blue Earth, said she is pleased to see local businesses using the funds they receive to succeed.
“Many times, I’m excited to work with new business owners from the ground up,”Schaefer said. “Watching the process of developing a business plan, figuring out cash flow and projects, and seeing all the work these business owners do before applying for funding becomes an option has been very rewarding.”
She concluded, “Our business owners work hard, and I’m excited to help them on behalf of EDA.”