The Orange County Small Business Loan and Grant programs directly help local businesses, giving about $1 million in loans and grants this year.
The Orange County Small Business Loan Program awards loans ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to for-profit businesses based out of Orange County with gross revenues that do not exceed $3 million annually. Additionally, the Orange County Economic Development Grant Program awards small and large grants for both business ventures and agricultural-related ventures.
Yvonne Scarlett, the business retention economic developer for Orange County Economic Development, said businesses must complete an extensive application to be considered. After submitting an application complete with business plans and growth projections, the application goes to the president of the Board of Directors for a preliminary review. If approved, the applicant then attends a meeting with the full Board of Directors for a decision.
“The meeting gives the applicant the chance to really let the Board of Directors know what kind of business they have, how they expect the business to grow, and it gives us an idea of how invested that business owner really is,” Scarlett said.
“We have some that come in and are so excited about their business and that’s refreshing. It’s great to see business owners that are so enthusiastic about what they are doing and what they intend to do.”
The loan program traces back to 1994, but underwent several structural changes to better manage funds and loan pools. In 2011, the program began receiving funding from the quarter-cent sales tax, also known as Article 46, which was passed by Orange County voters.
Steve Brantley, the director for Orange County Economic Development, said half of the funds that are generated from the quarter-cent sales tax goes to economic development. Of this, roughly $1 million was spent on loans and grants over the past 12 months, he said.
“We want to be more than a bedroom community to people,” Brantley said. “We want the jobs to be created and kept here, and these grants and loans have been used in various ways to help them.”
Scarlett said the loan committee meets monthly to review completed applications, which are continually accepted.
Janet Elbetri, the co-owner of Sandwhich restaurant on Franklin Street, was the recipient of a small business grant last year.
“I urgently needed a new point-of-sales system to send orders to the kitchen,” Elbetri said. “Like many small businesses, I am so grateful for the success we’ve enjoyed, but never had the kind of cash flow to support a purchase of that size.”
Elbetri said a friend told her about the grant program, and while she was doubtful that it would work or end up being enough money, she decided to apply.
“We got a new one, and it has been a lifesaver," she said. "I believe that without the grant, my business might have been in jeopardy, but instead, it saved me.”
Scarlett said the economic impact of the programs has been positive in Orange County.
“It’s ensuring job growth and business growth,” Scarlett said. “We have assisted existing businesses and startups, and if we’re looking at overall economic impact, it’s huge because it’s providing small businesses with financing they may not be able to achieve going the traditional banking way.”
Elbetri said county support for small local businesses is more important now than ever before.
“It’s one of those tangible, nonpartisan ways that people can agree,” Elbetri said. “We can just agree that small business is good, and I think most people can agree that small business is vulnerable, especially right now. It’s a hard time economically for many small business owners, so to have our county have our back like that — I cried when I got that grant. It meant that much.”
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