By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Business owners who missed out on a small business relief loan under the Paycheck Protection Program may still be in luck.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted at its May 5 regular meeting to adjust its Revolving Loan Fund program to respond to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to make (the fund) be able to give these loans to people who are struggling right now,” Commissioner Gayle Woody said of the move. “The health of our local economy is the livelihood of our citizens. We really want to be sensitive to and be able to help our citizens when they need it, right now.”

The county’s RLF was created in the 1980s through federal grants to help new businesses get off the ground or help existing businesses expand. The loans are usually required to be used for infrastructure such as water and sewer connections, preparation work on building sites or creating or improving roads into and around business. The application process was extensive and subject to review by an advisory board, public hearings and requirements of collateral or guarantees.

Though established by federal dollars, the nearly $1 million fund is kept going by interest from payments and repaid principal.

The version of the RLF created to handle emergency needs is the All In Jackson Fund.

Under the new guidelines, requirements on what funds can be used for and who qualifies have changed to meet emergency needs.

“We made amendments to the fund to allow for a more expedient and simplified application process during periods of economic stress during a local state of emergency,” Economic Development Director Rich Price said. “We further amended the RLF to allow loan proceeds to be used for operating expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, accounts payable, payroll, fixed debt or other business expenses.”

The amount businesses are allowed to borrow has changed as well. Companies may borrow as little as $2,500 or as much as $10,000.

To qualify, businesses should have been established for at least a year, have from one to 49 employees, have suffered a loss of 25 percent or greater revenue due to the pandemic and be located in Jackson County.

The county has provided $324,000 up front to establish the All In Jackson Fund, but welcomes additional contributions.

The Economic Development Office typically oversees the application and review process.

The application process opened last Friday, and applications will be managed on behalf of the EDO by Mountain BizWorks, a community development financial institution based in Asheville.

“We simply want our business community to know that the county and our partners, including the Jackson and Cashiers Area Chambers, Jackson TDA, SCC Small Business Center and WCU’s Small Business and Technology Development Center, have been working hard to find ways to assist them financially during this economic crisis, and are continuing to work to identify additional resources for them as we begin a phased reopening process,” Price said.

Commissioners also changed wording in the documents that authorizing the Revolving Loan Fund to make allowances for future emergencies.

“The reason we made the wording inclusive of the future is that in this kind of situation, the beauty of having this Jackson County Revolving Loan Fund is that we can quickly follow through and get the money to the people when they need it,” Woody said. “It’s not like the state or the federal government where there’s a lot more time involved. We may get a handle on this, but who knows what the future holds, so just being able to do it on an ongoing basis was our motivation.”