Should Local Governments Offer “Forgivable” Loans to Local Small Businesses?

  • March 30, 2015

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local-governments-forgivable-loansShould local governments get involved in financing small business? Lebanon, Tennessee Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. thinks so. A new program developed and implemented by the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine is designed to do just that.

It’s called the Inner City Economic Development Fund (ICED) and is a forgivable loan program that offers up to $25,000 to local small businesses to upgrade exterior facades, interiors, and other improvements in the distressed parts of the city and county.

“We get so hung up on $10 million or $20 million for the larger companies, well $25,000 to a small business for a façade uplift is like $2.5 million to one of those bigger businesses,” said the Mayor. “It’s that small start money we need in so many instances. It’s the one thing standing between so many dreams and opening day.”

Like other government and civic leaders across the country, Mayor Wharton heard the complaints of his small business community when they complained, “…tax breaks are only for fat-cat companies and that small businesses need not apply.”

The ICED program is trying to address those complaints within targeted neighborhoods to help local businesses and make streetscape improvements.

The loan program works more like a small business grant and the city cites several success stories in The Daily News, a local Memphis paper. Memphis isn’t the first place to try something like this. There are other cities that have used city funds to encourage small business development in distressed communities.

There’s no question a healthy Main Street is an important part of a thriving community—would you encourage your mayor to do something like this?