County Loan Programs Offer Key Support

//February 27, 2006

County Loan Programs Offer Key Support

//February 27, 2006

Industry ReportSince small businesses employ some 80% of the state’s workforce, the web of loan and grant programs at the county and city levels provides an essential support net for the Garden State economy.

In Mercer County alone, the Office of Economic Opportunity has lent more than $1.6 million since its inception in 2002. As with other such programs across the state, Charles Hill Jr., the county’s director of Economic Opportunity, says his aim is to help lift start-ups and companies looking to expand.

“It’s implicit that the program assists minority and women-owned businesses,” he says.

The program in Mercer works with groups of commercial banks that serve on the steering committee of the Regional Business Assistance Corp. that functions as the program’s intermediary financial institution. The county program offers five-year loans ranging in size from $25,000 to $125,000 at the prime rate plus 2%.

Hill’s office plans to launch a new business-resource center in June to help employers recruit and train workers, and is on the hunt for a suitable facility.

Over in Essex County, which includes the cities of Newark, Irvington and East Orange, Balozi R. Harvey, executive director of the Essex County Economic Development Corp., strives to build strength from the county’s diversity. “ I want to see the very best [in people],” he says, adding that ultimately, “we’re working in our children’s interest—for the future.”

Beneficiaries of the program include businesses run by Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans and women. They have obtained loans ranging in size from $1,000 to $100,000. Most of the companies are engaged in the service sector.

Harvey, who served as the presidential envoy for the African nation of Liberia in 2000, is optimistic about his county’s economic prospects. However, he’s concerned that cutbacks to public services in the inner cities would simply leave many with less money to spend. He says he’s hopeful that Gov. Jon Corzine, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, will provide some economic relief and guidance for New Jersey’s cities.

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