DARCI MALAM with the South Central Ozark Council of Governments presented an overview of loan options available to property and small business owners Tuesday at the Mtn. View Chamber of Commerce meeting.

A presentation was made Tuesday at the Mtn. View Chamber of Commerce meeting by South Central Council of Governments (SCOCOG) Revolving Loan Fund Manager and Economic Development Specialist Darci Malam, outlining loans meant to boost and stabilize small businesses and the economy.

Malam reminded community members SCOCOG has available funding in the form of loans, some of them related to COVID-19 hardships that small businesses may have experienced in the past several months. The programs are financed with federal, state and local money.

Some of the interest rates on loans have been reduced recently, she pointed out. A loan that could be of interest to rural homeowners is the Household Water Well Loan Program, aimed at making sure lower-income property owners have safe, convenient access to water by providing funding for new wells or repair of old ones.

It is for permanent, single family residential properties, at a rate of 4%, and can be financed over as many as 20 years on a maximum $15,000 loan, depending on ability to repay. Applicants must be the owner and inhabitant of the property, be current in property taxes and have a household income of less than $65,000.

That loan program is offered to residents of Howell, Oregon, Shannon, Douglas, Ozark, Texas and Wright counties, with other counties considered on a case-by-case basis.

Small business loans to be used for the purposes of financing startup and expansion, or job retention are also available, and rates have recently been reduced. Those loans can be financed at a 2.5% rate, with a typical maximum loan amount of $100,000.

"I have available $905,000 to lend. So I do have a lot of money to work with, and a lot of money I need to get out the door," Malam told luncheon attendees. "If there are businesses out there that need the money, let me know."

Stipulations are that businesses applying must use the funds to hire or retain one full time worker or two part time workers for each $35,000 borrowed, and be in danger of closing if those workers aren't retained.

COVID-related changes have also been applied to small businesses financing, Malam explained.

"Given the CARES Act funding and some of the issues with COVID, we were given some leniencies and some waivers," Malam said. The modifications include lowering interest rates, and waiving a requirement that businesses put up 10% equity to get a loan.

A third change is that a bank or other lending institution need not be involved in the lending process, freeing up SCOCOG to offer financing for the entire project.

"They are giving us a huge leniency in this situation with COVID, so we can talk directly to these businesses and essentially be a sole financer in these projects."

Eligible uses of loan funds include construction, equipment purchases and other typical startup costs. Overall, SCOCOG is in it for economic development, with the long term goal of business success and stability, Malam said.

Any property owner or small business owner interested in applying for one of the loans may contact SCOCOG by calling 256-6188 or emailing mail@scocog.org.

Malam also spoke on behalf of Heather Fisher, director of the Ozarks Small Business Incubator, who wanted to remind small business owners of the existence of grants related to COVID-19 hardships experienced since this past spring.

Grants are available to small businesses administered through OzSBI and granted by the Howell County Commission. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 11. Applicants must have been in operation as of March 1, have fewer than 500 employees and show a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications may be made at ozsbi.com/hocomocares, or by calling 256-9724.

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