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Friday, November 20, 2020

Here’s an under-the-radar government loan program that could save your small business

CRAINE'S NEW YORK BUSINESS - Aaron Elstein

Lisa Lindo needed a plan and, most of all, money to transform her corporate-event catering business.

Coming up with the plan wasn’t hard: She would teach people to mix cocktails at home using kits with glasses and shakers sent in the mail. But coming up with the money to pay for the kits was difficult. Federal small-business assistance is all but tapped out, and online lenders touting their eagerness to help didn’t respond to Lindo’s pleas for aid.

Desperate and exasperated, she applied for a state program that she saw in a newsletter. The program promised low-interest loans and no principal due for a year. It felt like another waste of time, but to her surprise $50,000 landed in her bank account two days later, on Nov. 1—just as companies started making plans for remote holiday parties with their staff.

Lindo is getting about five orders each day for her cocktail kits. She rehired her assistant.

She describes the revival of Open Bar Hospitality as something like a miracle.

“Sometimes God arrives at just the right time,” she said.

Lindo’s lifeline came from the New York Forward Loan Fund, a pool of $150 million in public and private capital to support small businesses. The fund is open to businesses with 20 or fewer employees that received less than $50,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program or $10,000 from the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Landlords who own fewer than 200 units are eligible as well.

The interest rate is 2% for nonprofits and 3% for for-profit enterprises. Loans mature in five years.

Ann Finnegan, a director at the National Development Council, a nonprofit that helps small businesses with financing, said the loan program is the most attractive package available for small businesses at a time when federal relief has run dry and Washington has been unable to agree on further assistance.

“Until Congress gets its act together, this is it,” Finnegan said. “This program offers a year of runway to the people who need it most.”

The Forward Loan Program is a fraction the size of the PPP, which provided nearly $40 billion to small and midsize businesses in New York. But plenty of entrepreneurs missed out on PPP assistance because they didn’t have close relationships with banks or couldn’t keep their business alive long enough. Lindo didn’t apply for PPP money because the proceeds had to be used to pay staff, and her employees are freelancers.

About $20 million in loans have been made under the Forward Loan Program, at an average of $50,000 each, according to Calvert Impact Capital, one of the program’s supporters. Sixty-five percent of borrowers are minority- or woman-owned businesses.

The program was unveiled in July. After a slow start, lending activity has tripled since late September, NDC officials said.

Michelle Bishop, executive director of Harlem Needle Arts, said her $54,000 loan helps her nonprofit support artists whose textile work is meant for public display. She said she’ll use some of the proceeds to produce videos so their art can be experienced remotely.

Bishop said she applied for the loan because she recognizes the city won’t be equipped to support public art the way it used to.

“I understand there may be bigger fish to fry,” she said.

 

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