Lending a Hand

Ken Rea of the First Tennessee Development District presents a check to Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest during an event to kick off a new downtown loan program in Tennessee’s oldest town. The program will allow business owners to get low-interest loans with down payment assistance. Photo by Dave Ongie

New downtown loan program aims to help Jonesborough businesses

By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor

Small business owners along Jonesborough’s historic Main Street survived the COVID-19 pandemic with a blend of tenacity, ingenuity and cooperation.

While the economy in Tennessee has been reopened, small business owners in our region and across the state are now facing new economic headwinds even as they continue to grapple with difficulties left in the aftermath of the global pandemic. Business owners are still struggling to find employees and dealing with supply chain issues, and now the prospect of rising inflation and interest rates is adding more complication to the equation for many small business owners.

In that respect, Friday’s announcement of the Jonesborough Downtown Loan Program couldn’t have come at a better time. The Northeast Tennessee Economic Development Corporation announced the program last Friday with dollars recaptured from other loan programs funding the new program in Jonesborough.

“It couldn’t have come along at a better time because costs are rising not just for citizens here, the cost on small businesses is going up as well,” said Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest. “The opportunity to get a low-interest loan can be the difference between someone continuing to struggle while costs rise and someone being able to expand their business and attract new customers.”

The goal of the loan program is to allow new and existing business owners to obtain local, low-interest rate loans in order to buy or improve a building, purchase new equipment or make repairs. Ken Rea – First Tennessee Development District’s deputy director, economic & community development – said about half of the loans made by the program are used to buy and renovate a building to house a new business.

If it is a $200,000 project, banks typically want $40,000 down. Rea said the loan program will be able to pay $25,000 of that, which eases the burden on small business owners.

“It makes the numbers work,” Rea said. “Banks like our program because we take a second position behind them and the borrower gets to keep some money in his pocket instead of stretching himself.”

Existing businesses looking to fix a roof, replace a heat pump or add a piece of equipment to facilitate expansion also benefit a great deal from the downtown loan program. Rea said Johnson City is the oldest program and 42 loans have been administered in the past 15 years or so to help spur redevelopment in the city’s downtown district.

Vest said he expects the new downtown loan program to help bolster the efforts that have already been taking place in Jonesborough’s downtown.

“I think success feeds upon itself,” Vest said. “We’ve got some great entrepreneurs here and they work the business. They’re in their shops every day. That made the difference for them, and also as a town, I think our marketing and tourism department really stepped up and took it to another level in marketing the downtown.”
More information on the program and eligibility requirements can be found by visit netedc.org.


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