City of Cortland sets up microenterprise fund for small businesses

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Small businesses with five or fewer employees may apply for funding through the city of Cortland’s microenterprise grant program.

Thoma Development Consultants, an economic development group assisting state municipalities and processing the microenterprise program, announced Wednesday the program could provide up to $35,000 for these small businesses. Funds may be used for equipment, inventory, working capital and other uses. 

The city received $200,000 from the federal government through the state’s Office Community Renewal for the program, with $170,000 ready to be disbursed to microenterprises. The other $30,000 will be used to cover the program’s administrative costs, according to Linda Armstrong, a program manager at Thoma Development.

Applications for the program are due by the end of business on Feb. 20 and can be found here along with guidelines.

As part of the eligibility requirements, the five-employee count must include the owner. Nonprofit organizations do not qualify for the program. Awardees must also provide a minimum of 10% equity to the project, according to the program’s guidelines.

Guidelines state that, to be eligible for assistance, an existing or new microenterprise must also meet a low-to-moderate income test in one of two ways: 

  • The business owner must be low-to-moderate in income (LMI).
  • A majority of the jobs to be created must be LMI jobs and/or available to low-to-moderate income persons. 

Below is a table that explains maximum income limits, per state guidelines.

“There are very few federal programs that help microenterprises,” said Armstrong, highlighting the importance of the microenterprise grants. “It’s also important because it’s meant for small businesses that don’t have access to traditional financing. Startups generally have a tough time getting financing because they don't have a track record.”

Armstrong noted that typically startups that have been operating six months or fewer don’t have access to loans because they do not have established credit.

“The city has used the program historically, to fund businesses downtown. That helps keep downtown vibrant,” she said.

An example of a successful microenterprise grant program alum is Main Street Farms, Armstrong said.

“They have grown exponentially and they’ve used the microenterprise program as a stepping stone,” Armstrong noted.

The city has set up a loan review committee to vet applications.

“They will make a recommendation then to the common council and the common council will authorize the award of the funds,” she said.

The city could also have an opportunity to ask for another $100,000 from OCR this fiscal year after the first round of reimbursements, Armstrong said.

An in-person public meeting will be held for prospective applicants at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce on 83 Main St. in the city.

A remote meeting for prospective applicants will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 18. Interested parties can RSVP at [email protected].