OAK HILL — Local agencies are still striving to help small businesses in the area survive economic problems which remain as fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of that continuing effort, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and its offshoot, the WV Hive, visited Tuesday with interested individuals during a Fayette County Town Hall meeting at Oak Hill City Hall. They shared up-to-date information about SBA Covid-19 resources, grants and other loan programs.

"We're hearing from the small businesses in our towns all across our footprint; they're looking for direction," said Joe Brouse, executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. "Some of them are doing okay, and some of them aren't. And some have closed. Some of the ones that have closed are looking to get back.,

"We need to direct them to the resources; the resources are out there."

Those include Paycheck Protection Program loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans — both Small Business Administration initiatives. "We've been helping a lot of people process those applications, to be able to understand them (and apply)," said Brouse. "Hopefully they can do those types of things, and keep people working and keep their business going."

Brouse also discussed a newer loan program also designed to help "these smaller Mom-and-Pop businesses."

Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch earlier this month recommended projects spurred by nearly $12 million in grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Investment Program. With a $750,000 allocation, the NRGRDA was one of the recipients. The authority worked with many others around the state and under the guidance of the West Virginia Development Office to create a program "geared toward helping the smaller businesses that occupy our towns and occupy space there," Brouse said.

In its corner, an existing revolving loan fund operated by NRGRDA will be recapitalized. Funds would be used for working capital and business expansion, and will be aimed at small businesses in Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh and Summers counties.

These "working capital loans" may help companies meet payroll expenses, but "these monies are looking a lot further down the road," said Brouse. "It's more long-term money to help them ease the burden that they're experiencing from lost revenue and lost profitability."

While the money isn't in hand yet, Brouse expects it will be soon. He said loans from the NRGRDA would be $25,000 per business, with no collateral, and they will be fixed at three percent over a five-year period. If the loan goes through the NRGRDA, Brouse also discussed possible payment delays in the beginning and forgiving portions of the payments as the term of the loan winds down if a business stays in operation the entire time.

Once funds are available, the NRGRDA website, nrgrda.org, will feature a "very simple" application, and loan requests will be overseen by a loan review committee and a board of directors. Much of the work can be done electronically, Brouse said.

Mary Legg, business advisor with the WV Hive, which is an initiative of the NRGRDA that focuses on small business incubation and acceleration for southern West Virginia, also participated Tuesday.

Legg, whose coverage area includes Fayette, Nicholas, Braxton and Webster counties, discussed "how we pivoted our business advising some. It doesn't look necessarily like what it has traditionally because we're now in the Covid era."

Legg has a business background, but she only came on board with the NRGRDA just as the pandemic began to take hold in southern West Virginia. "It will be great fun to work with clients in starting businesses and things like that where we're not worried about all of this stuff. I'm anxious for those days."

The chief mission in recent months has been "providing resources for small businesses that they may need in this time to get through the Covid era," she said. That has included helping clients with matters such as seeking PPP loans and EIDLs. Among the bigger hurdles faced by small businesses have been "guidelines for opening back up, interpreting them, understanding what they can and can't do, and moving forward financially (how to cover costs, as well as what aid is available)," she said. "That has been a big challenge ... often these folks have not been able to keep their folks employed because maybe there are federal guidelines that are preventing them from being open" or some workers preferred to remain unemployed due to the money involved there.

The EIDL program closed, then opened back up to agriculture-based businesses, but is now available for all small businesses, she noted. EIDL also features a $10,000 advance which is available within three days of an application being approved.

There is another week to apply for PPP loans, she added, and "they are processing them relatively quickly."

Legg says most local businesses have worked hard to stick it out, and she praises them. Entrepreneurs "are the heart and soul of that business, and if you've got the heart and soul, then you'll provably survive. Entrepreneurs are pretty gritty people usually, and it is kind of inspiring to see them buckle down and make it through."

"We have to deal with what's in front of us," Brouse said. "I've got businesses calling and saying, 'Hey, I need help. If I don't get something in the next three months, then I'm done.'

"If we get to enough of those folks, and enough of those folks get to us, and they don't get discouraged and give up, then we've done our job and the future looks brighter."

After discussing the assistance available to businesses which have suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the changes made to those programs as they have evolved, and their remaining availability, Brouse and Legg fielded questions from the audience relating to some Covid-19 situations and some normal business areas.

Anyone with questions can visit www.nrgrda.org or https://wvhive.com/.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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