COUNTY OF WELLINGTON – The county is reviewing the possibility of providing low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 closures.
This motion was brought forward by Guelph-Eramosa Mayor Chris White at the county’s first remote teleconference meeting on Thursday.
It directs county staff to review the feasibility of allocating county money to a new small business recovery fund under the economic development Community Improvement Plan.
The county and member municipalities would work with community economic development partners such as the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures (WWCF), an organization that supports small businesses through government funding.
“Looking at what's come out of the province at this date, we don’t see the direct financing right into the small business,” White said in a follow-up interview, adding that this would be useful even if more financial reliefs are announced.
White said these loans are necessary because of the stark reality small businesses are facing in this crisis.
“Depending on how long this goes on for, is some of these businesses once they close, they may not be back” White said. “That’s a major impact on the county, a major impact on services and, more importantly, a major impact on jobs and employment.”
White said the idea is to use the existing infrastructure, staff and office used by WWCF.
White is the president of WWCF’s board and said their experience will ensure applicants are properly vetted. WWCF only has enough funding to help out a few businesses with the federal funding.
“There’s a lot of businesses in the county, we want to be able to make sure we can support them,” White said. “Futures just doesn't have the resources for that at this point.”
WWCF will still exist and use federal funding but in parallel with the proposed county money flowing to applicants.
White stressed that these are repayable loans that will go back to the county. Although acting as a bank, the county can be more flexible with businesses.
“We’re going to do everything it takes to help these folks get on their feet,” he said. “It’s not going to be a traditional bank ‘Here’s a thousand bucks, make a payment, if you miss a payment we’re gonna come close you down’ we’re going to work with them.”
The current thought are loans in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 which will narrow down the size of businesses that will apply.
Council was unanimous in support and some councillors urged this to be done sooner rather than later.
“I fear that we may get caught in the weeds of this thing and it drags on too long,” councillor Doug Breen said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people over the last week and a half and there’s business that aren’t going to make it to the end of the week, let alone the end of the month.”
Warden Kelly Linton said the next step is to hold meetings with community partners, county financial staff and councillors. After that, he said the council should convene for an emergency meeting next week to get this done as soon as possible.