Aug 15, 2014

Columbia County loan fund gets $99,990 infusion

Excerpted from Portage Daily Register

By Lyn Jerde

A revolving loan fund that has offered seed money to Columbia County businesses for more than a decade will soon get an infusion of cash, thanks to the federal government.

The Columbia County Economic Development Corp. is one of eight Wisconsin recipients, announced Thursday, of Rural Business Enterprise Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

Nancy Elsing, executive director of the CCEDC, said the $99,900 grant will go into a revolving loan fund — one of three such funds available to new or expanding businesses based in Columbia County. Besides the CCEDC’s fund, there also are revolving loan funds overseen by Columbia County and the city of Portage.

A revolving loan fund offers financial assistance at below-market interest rates for businesses that meet specific criteria, including job creation. When the loans are repaid, the money goes back into the fund and is available for other loans.

Elsing said it was 2002 when the CCEDC first applied for, and received, a USDA Rural Development grant of $99,150 to start a revolving loan fund. That fund grew after the 2008 floods with another $150,000 grant, largely because many Columbia County residents and businesses suffered flood-related losses.

Like all revolving loan funds, the CCEDC’s RLF provides “gap funding” for businesses, which must also have financing from other sources, including private financial institutions, to qualify for the revolving loans. But Elsing estimates that the availability of CCEDC revolving loans has, over the years, leveraged more than $3 million for new or expanding business in Columbia County.

The amount of a CCEDC loan, according to Elsing, usually is based on the number of full-time equivalent jobs that the business promises to create within a year of receiving the loan.

Although Columbia County still has its own revolving loan fund — with every loan requiring final approval from the County Board — the county fund is in the process of transitioning to a six-county regional fund, pending state approval. The proposed Capital Area Regional Revolving Loan Fund would pool municipal revolving loan funds (including the city of Portage’s) in Columbia, Dane, Jefferson, Dodge, Rock and Sauk counties. When the regionalization is finalized, all the money in these funds would be pooled and available to businesses in any of the participating counties.

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