SW MI organization repurposes business loans for COVID-19 relief

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — A Van Buren County loan program is helping businesses facing economic challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twelve small businesses are each receiving $20,000 through the county’s revolving loan fund for economic development. The federal dollars, which are first routed through the state, normally go to new projects but an exception is being made because of the challenges posed by the pandemic.  

“We were able to retool quickly, with the permission of the state, to provide loans to several recently established and ongoing small businesses,” Paul Schincariol, a board member of the Van Buren County Economic Development Corporation, said.

With proposals for additional small business relief stalled in Washington, D.C., the county wanted to act quickly.  

Zach Morris, the executive director of Market Van Buren, says the funding comes at a crucial time for local small businesses and will provide much-needed working capital. 

“We were allowed to go under market rate for interest,” Morris said. “In the first year, we’re making it interest only.”
 
The owners of the Outpouring Cafe in Paw Paw, Heidi Keister and Taye Wheeler, say the loan is greatly appreciated and comes when they need it the most. 

“We were shut down for a little over two months with not knowing what was going to happen. Of course, no money is coming in but the bills still have to be paid,” Wheeler said. 

The business could have stayed opened but closed because there were not enough customers coming in during the beginning of the pandemic to make operating financially viable.  

“We didn’t get much help in other areas so this loan is something that is getting us back on our feet and a chance to survive,” Keister said. 

The low-rate loans will also provide crucial funding to business owners April Webster and Chelsea Ausland. They opened the Harvey House Salon between Paw Paw and Mattawan two years ago.  

“This is really just going to ensure the longevity of our business and secure employment for all the ladies that work here,” Ausland said. 

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