BY SHARON HILLSTROM

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are just beginning to be felt by Manatee County businesses, and financial assistance is on the way for businesses that qualify.

At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., (EDC), the well-being of our client companies, investors and community is our top priority. We understand the concern and uncertainty business owners may be experiencing surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are committed to responding to local business-related needs as the situation evolves.

Manufacturers whose supply chains have been disrupted may need to find other sources for parts and materials. Many businesses may need to dip into lines of credit to fund unexpected expenses and cushion the blow from reduced sales. Educational institutions must find ways to deliver more coursework online. Employers must adopt policies and technology infrastructure to accommodate more employees working from home. Hospitality businesses are already experiencing dire challenges.

All of these challenges and adaptations require time and money, often detracting from core business operations and hurting the bottom line. Last week, state and federal agencies announced two programs offering financial assistance for businesses that qualify.

For short-term assistance, the state activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19 with short-term, interest-free loans. The program is available to small business owners located in all Florida counties statewide that experienced economic damage as a result of COVID-19.

These short-term, interest-free working capital loans are intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a major catastrophe hits and when a business has secured longer-term recovery resources, such as sufficient profits from a revived business, receipt of payments on insurance claims or federal disaster assistance.

Applications can be submitted through May 8. Information is available at http://FloridaDisasterLoan.org. Questions may be directed to the Florida Small Business Development Center Network Headquarters, Disaster@FloridaSBDC.org, 866-737-7232.

For longer-term low-interest financing, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is accepting applications for disaster loans from small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private nonprofit organizations.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in economic assistance to help small businesses overcome the temporary loss of revenue resulting from the disaster. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.

Interest rates offered are as low as 3.75% for businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%. Loan amounts are set by the SBA and based on each applicant’s financial condition. Repayment terms are up to 30 years, and businesses only pay interest on the amount they borrow.

To apply, visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/. For additional information, contact the SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center. Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

We also strongly encourage Manatee County businesses to complete the short online Business Damage Assessment managed by the DEO. The survey will help the state evaluate businesses affected by COVID-19, the impacts the virus has had on the local economy, and assistance that may be required. The survey can be completed online at https://floridadisaster.biz/BusinessDamageAssessments.

This is a fluid situation and it’s important to stay informed. The EDC participates as a member of Manatee County’s Emergency Operations team and remains in close contact with local and state agencies. Our primary role in this situation is to provide to Manatee County businesses the information and access to resources they may need if their operations are adversely impacted. Visit our dedicated COVID-19 web page for updates: BradentonAreaEDC.com/COVID19.