Help is on the way, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry assured small businesses in a call Thursday.
The help is available after the Jacksonville City Council approved legislation to establish a “COVID-19 Small Business Relief & Employee Retention Grant Program.”
The city will commit $9 million in current year funds to kickstart a six-year loan program with VyStar Credit Union for small businesses and non-profits ranging from two to 100 employees.
Businesses will have to have been established for one year.
Unsecured low-interest lines of credit are the main vehicle, but there are grants and even a forgiveness component to certain businesses should they maintain employment levels.
Time is of the essence. With weeks-long restrictions on commerce and movement choking out cash flow for once-thriving enterprises, these loans potentially can help float a payroll account through the worst of the shutdowns.
“I knew we had to step up in some way,” Curry said.
Curry expects the economy to start opening up early in May, assuming the federal and state governments green light a road to “some sense of normalcy.”
But many businesses don’t have sufficient resources to fund operations, which is where the loans come in.
Up to $100,000 is available to a given business, and that applies also to businesses that work primarily with 1099 independent contractors, Curry said.
However, independent contractors themselves are on their own, as a 1099 worker does not have an employee of their own.
If employee headcount is maintained, Curry said, the city could assume 50% of the cost of interest and principal repayments.
Curry tasked Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes with working on a concept, and the relationship with VyStar quickly followed.
VyStar CEO Brian Wolfburg noted that his credit union has a “good sized financial team,” but demand from the local program and the federal Paycheck Protection Program has kept his team working “night and day.”
“We do more loans in a day than we’ve done in some months,” Wolfburg said. “We’re going to have money in people’s hands starting tomorrow.”
The goal of the local program is to provide an additional patch as federal aid funnels through the system.
Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, a potential candidate to succeed Curry in 2023, hosted the meeting.
Throughout the call, there was little daylight between the current Mayor and his potential successor, as cohesive and deliberately reassuring messaging was presented.
In closing the call, Curry (the ultimate politician in the city’s recent history), said “politics have died.”
Davis lauded the power of his words.