ATHABASCA/WESTLOCK - It was much-needed relief for the many businesses suffering from the impact of COVID-19 and its effects on the economy — so much so that every federal dollar provided as part of the Regional Relief Recovery Fund (RRRF) earlier this year has already been divvied up and put to good use.
Community Futures administered the loan program in Alberta, and provided applicants with more than $25.5 million. Nearly $1 million of that was distributed by the Tawatinaw region office, which is one of 27 offices across Alberta whose mandate is to provide small and medium sized businesses, both starting up and existing, with support services.
The Tawatinaw office is located in Westlock and covers the Athabasca, Westlock and Sturgeon areas, while the Barrhead area is overseen by the Yellowhead East office, based in Whitecourt.
“Overall, we were really, really pleased with the response we got to it. It was a program that was definitely needed in the region, so we were very happy that we were selected to administer the program,” said Kelly Harris-Martin, general manager for Community Futures Tawatinaw.
Harris-Martin and her colleagues helped 27 applicants — four in the Athabasca region; 12 in the Westlock region; and 11 in the Sturgeon region — with loans between $13,000 and $40,000 to help them get through the pandemic. She wasn’t able to be specific about the industries of the successful applicants, but said they were varied in size from one to 30 employees and included agriculture producers and even non-profits.
“It was interesting for us, and we also had several successful farming applicants … which is a little bit of a new area for us so we were really happy to see them reaching out for assistance,” said Harris-Martin. “From our perspective, it was a really great program because we met some new people in our business world, so it was very exciting for us.”
On a provincial level, Community Futures offices approved 754 applications and have dispersed all of the $25.5 million received from the federal government, said Harris-Martin.
Successful applicants are required to put the funds towards payments on existing equipment and machinery; salaries and benefits; property taxes; utilities; bank charges and interest payments; office supplies; vehicle-operating expenses; professional fees; monthly insurance payments; rent; and other applicable fixed operating costs.
Repayment terms include no interest accrual or principal payments through December 31, 2022 and if 75 per cent of the loan is repaid by December 31, 2022, the remainder of the loan is forgiven. Blended principal and interest payments beginning January 1, 2023 and loans must be repaid by December 31, 2025, and there are no prepayment penalties.
While the regional relief and recovery dollars have been dispersed, with no word on whether more will be provided, Harris-Martin pointed out Community Futures is carrying on as usual and is still offering its Pandemic Opportunities Response Program Loans (PORPL) for small businesses that have recognized an opportunity despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it.
“(PORPL) operates similar to the RRRF program, but does not have the forgivable 25 per cent portion,” said Harris-Martin. “It’s a good fit, especially for those businesses that have actually found new opportunities in the new reality that we all live in, and we are already seeing applications for the program from businesses that have either pivoted or adapted their business, or have simply found a completely new avenue they can explore.”
Businesses that have been turned down by traditional financial institutions can apply for up to $40,000, at zero per cent interest for the first year, and four per cent thereafter, with no payments for the first three months, for a maximum term of five years.
There is a 10 per cent application fee, which will be forgiven if the loan is repaid as agreed, and principal payments can be made voluntarily, at any time, without penalty.
Harris-Martin says Community Futures offices are also getting back into their normal routine, and will once again be offering training programs again in the near future.
“I do want everybody to know, we are still open for business, and if anybody has the need for a one-on-one with any of our analysts … we have a lot of different people here with a pretty wide skill set, so they’re certainly welcome to book a one-on-one with us.”