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MOUNT VERNON — Knox County small businesses in need of short-term working capital due to the effects of COVID-19 have a new source for funding.

According to Jeff Gottke, president of the Area Development Foundation, the goal of the Emergency Business Loan is to provide operating capital as businesses enact cost-saving measures and tighten their belts so that they can continue operations during the pandemic.

“While the state and federal governments have come to the rescue of many businesses in the county, I am hearing that businesses still need some help. ADF is excited to play a part in helping local businesses keep their doors open until they can resume normal operations,” said Gottke.

The zero-interest loans are available up to $10,000 and will have one- to three-year repayment terms. Qualifying businesses must be in Knox County and meet the following criteria:

--Employ county residents of low- to moderate-income

--Have maintained stable business operations before COVID-19

--Have the ability to repay the loan

--Demonstrated significant cost-savings measures in response to current economic conditions

The money for the loans comes from the local Community Development Block Grant Revolving Loan Fund. The ADF administers the fund.

Most readers are familiar with the CDBG program as it relates to funding for infrastructure improvement projects such as sidewalks, home improvement, or water and sewer lines. The CDBG money in the revolving loan fund is a separate program (CDBG-Economic Development Program) and does not take away from funds for infrastructure.

“The money that we're using is the money that was paid back by local businesses who borrowed from it before,” explained Gottke. “There is no new money, it's repaid money.”

The revolving loan fund promotes business retention, growth, and employment opportunities, particularly for low- to moderate-income residents. In response to COVID-19, the ADF has temporarily repurposed it as an emergency response to the county's economic needs.

“Under the old rules, the money couldn't be used for working capital. They lifted those restrictions, and now it can,” Gottke explained. “The state has realized the need and has loosened some of the restrictions on the money so that it can better meet businesses' emergency needs.”

Referrals to the program must be made through a qualifying Small Business Association (SBA) lender. Businesses interested in applying should contact their SBA lender first. A 12-member committee will vet each application in the order it is received, with final approval coming from the state.

Gottke said that while the money in the revolving loan fund will help, it won't go very far. He is seeking donations of private and state funds as well. Individuals and businesses interested in donating can contact Gottke at jeff@knoxadf.com.

“In this unprecedented time, we must all help each other out. That includes our favorite businesses,” Gottke said. “Think of donating to the Emergency Business Loan Fund as an investment in the economic stability and quality of life in Knox County. As members of the Knox County community, we should help each other out however we can.”

Helping out is a sentiment ingrained in Michelle Turner, co-owner of Dean's Jewelry in Mount Vernon and Coshocton.

“Community has always been important to us, so we try to stay involved,” she said. “I was really excited to be able to help out when Jeff came up with his plan.”

That help comes by donating a portion of the sales from a specially designed ring and pendant to the ADF's revolving loan fund. The company will also give to the Coshocton Port Authority, the ADF's counterpart in Coshocton County.

Dean's designer, Jeff DeRan, created the Flatten the Curve jewelry “to commemorate these times and thank all those heroes who rose to the challenge.”

“I thought they were great, so I contacted one of our manufacturers, who got the ball rolling,” said Turner. “As soon as the manufacturing companies are able to open, we'll start producing the pieces. Right now, we're taking preorders.

“Depending on where the purchase is made, we will be donating to the Area Development Foundation or the Port Authority in Coshocton,” she continued. “We feel that it is very important to give back in some way. With us being a small business ourselves, we were looking for ways how we could do that.”

Turner knows what it's like to be a small business affected by COVID-19. The company closed both of its locations in mid-March when Gov. Mike DeWine ordered nonessential companies to close.

“We have 12 employees between our two locations,” she said. “We applied for the Paycheck Protection Program loan, which we're really happy about that. As soon as we closed, we chose to keep all of our employees paid full time.”

The PPP is part of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) that President Trump signed into law on March 27. Businesses do not need to repay the loan if they use it to keep workers on payroll or pay rent, mortgage, or utilities.

The initial $350 billion for the PPP has been distributed. Under an agreement announced on Tuesday, Congress will authorize an additional $320 billion.

Turner estimates the company has lost $200,000 in revenue due to closing. She's not sure the stores will reopen for Mother's Day, the second-biggest holiday in the jewelry business.

Still, she wants to give back to the community.

“Connecting to the community is really, really important,” she said. “We are third-generation; Dean was my grandfather. He definitely taught my brother and I that it's about relationships and being involved. We are not just selling jewelry, we are selling emotions and things that they love and want to share with other people. So it's really important to us to help keep the community strong and being part of it as often as we can.”

Turner learned on Tuesday that because Dean's Jewelry offered the design to independent jewelers on a national level, she'll be able to help out more than she initially thought.

“The company making them for us, because we are allowing them to put the images out nationally, they will be giving us money for every one that they sell,” she said. “So we'll be able to donate to Coshocton County and Knox County even more. We are super excited about that.”

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