BEMIDJI -- As local businesses continue to weather the storm of coronavirus-related closures and changes, Bemidji's economic organizations are working to help keep entrepreneurs standing.

One of the most critical actions is the administering of a loan program by Greater Bemidji Economic Development. Greater Bemidji has been selected as the certified lender of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's emergency loan program to assist businesses.

The loans will range from $2,500 to $35,000 and be based on the firm's economic injury and the financial need. According to a release, the loan can be paid back over a five year period, with a six month deferral on the first payment with partial forgiveness.

The DEED loans will be 50% forgivable and offered at a 0% interest rate. DEED is estimating the loan program will provide resources to between 1,200 and 5,000 businesses.

"The state emergency loan program was created specifically for industries and businesses shut down as part of their executive orders," said Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel. "They're eligible to receive some support from the state and they'll be run through our office. If you fit in that category or think you fit in that category, I encourage those people to reach out directly to our office."

Dave Hengel
Dave Hengel

Greater Bemidji has been especially busy lately, as Hengel said he was contacted by 51 business representatives in a 36-hour period this week.

"They're looking for support and their stories are tragic," Hengel said. "I'm particularly concerned about our small, locally owned businesses. As a community, we're doing all we can to support our businesses, but this disaster certainly will have a long term impact on our economy in the Bemidji area."

Moving forward, Hengel said it's important for businesses to stay in contact with their banks.

"They know your resources and they know your business," Hengel said. "They also know some resources to get you through."

Another option available at the moment, according to Hengel, is the Small Business Administration's Federal Disaster Loan program.

"I"m encouraging all business owners to put in an application now," Hengel said. "It's going to take some time, so there's no harm in getting your application in the process."

At the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, Executive Director Abby Randall said the organization has received feedback on the situation through a recent survey.

Abby Randall
Abby Randall

"Early on in this process, when we knew that restaurants were going to be shut down and we knew that there would be a threat to local revenue sources, we created a survey for businesses to fill out," Randall said. "What we're finding is a lot of businesses just need information on what they should do in terms of financing. I think the mood right now is that everything is coming so fast. So everyone is just doing their best to find information and make sense of it."

Like Greater Bemidji, Randall said the Chamber is also directing businesses to helpful services.

"We're encouraging businesses to visit the state's unemployment website and reassuring businesses that if that's a measure you need to take, look into it," Randall said. "I think a lot of businesses are feeling bad about having to lay off employees, they don't want it to happen. But right now, we can reassure them that these are unprecedented times and we have to do what it takes to keep our businesses healthy until we can ride this out."

"The challenge here is the uncertainty," Hengel said. "How long will this last and how long people will be unemployed. That's the challenge."

Fore more information about unemployment services, visit www.uimn.org. More information about DEED can be found at: https://mn.gov/deed. The Chamber's website is www.bemidji.org and Greater Bemidji's is www.greaterbemidji.com.

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