About $200,000 in low-interest loans has been made available to small business owners in Wellington, South Amherst, LaGrange, and Grafton through a new county program.
The Lorain County Downtown Revitalization Loan Fund was established in November with the aim of getting money to communities that have difficulty winning grants.
Smaller communities with limited budgets are often unable to compete with larger towns because they can’t match grants dollar-for-dollar, said county community development director Don Romancak.
Loan money will go toward building improvements such as new windows, flooring, roofs, and upgrades to heating and air conditioning.
“Every time a grant becomes available, it’s dominated by Amherst and Oberlin,” Romancak said. “Working with Jenny Arntz in Wellington really gave us perspective on pushing the loan project forward. We have these small downtowns that are very important to the county as a whole.”
“With the grants, Wellington just couldn’t match larger areas in terms of the number of interested business owners or the leverage dollars that would come in from the community,” he said. “It just wasn’t a competitive application based on how the state scores them. We couldn’t fill this need through our normal course of business.”
Loan funding carries a two percent fixed interest rate and is capped at $10,000 per property with payments from business owners going directly back into the county fund.
“This isn’t going to be just a one-shot deal,” he said. “We’re planning on this being a sustained program after this initial investment. These are local development dollars we’ve been able to locate. It’s not coming out of the general fund and it’s not coming through state or federal funds.”
In 2017, Main Street Wellington was denied a federal community development block grant that was to go toward new downtown lighting.
Romancak said that for small business owners to compete with large corporate retailers, they need to create a personalized experience for customers and take advantage of local initiatives like Lorain County Community College’s Small Business Development Center.
“It ultimately comes down to the value you’re providing the customer,” he said. “There’s certain things where you might not be able to compete against a Wal-Mart, but the opportunities are still there. It’s not guaranteed and it’s not easy. Each of our downtowns are a little different and the people who frequent them are different.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.