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Interest-free loans available to local businesses

News Staff Writer

Many businesses in Atmore and the surrounding area were unable to procure federal or state funds to keep themselves solvent during the coronavirus pandemic and in the wake of back-to-back hurricanes. But a program devised by a group of local business owners and industrialists gives them another option to keep their doors open and their lights on.
The Atmore Microloan Fund, which is managed by Atmore’s United Bank, offers interest-free loans of $2,000 to $20,000 to struggling businesses in the 36502 or 36504 zip codes.
Chris Walker, assistant vice president for community bank business lending, said the microloan program is not administered by the bank.
“We’re just managing the money and the loans,” Walker said. “It’s not bank money. This money was donated through philanthropic donations to a charitable foundation, and we manage the foundation’s funds. No government agency is involved. It’s local business owners who pooled these funds to make this happen.”
A microloan fund committee decides whether or not to approve a loan application. The committee is comprised of Walker, David Landa, Alex Jones, Elliott Faircloth, Karean Reynolds and Nancy Lowrey.
“Basically, I take the applications in and underwrite the applications, then the microloan committee does the approval process,” Walker explained.
The 0-percent loans carry payback terms of 36 months. The funds are intended for use as working capital, and there are a couple of restrictions to their use.
“The funds are supposed to be used for needs such as equipment, working capital, buying inventory, things like that,” Walker said. “The intent of the fund is to help small businesses to stay afloat, so to speak, to maintain or to grow. What it’s not purposed for, not to be used for, is down payments or real estate purchases or building maintenance.”
The fund has been in place for several months now, but only eight applications have been received, five of which were approved.
“Most of the applications we’ve gotten came from word of mouth,” Walker said. “At Music on Main and a couple other Chamber-sponsored events, the Chamber people would tell business owners it was available. That’s how we’ve gotten most of the applications.
“We made the first loan in September. That’s about the time Paycheck Protection Program money ran out and the program ended. Basically, this fund is for those businesses not able get a PPP loan but still having issues trying to stay open.”
Those wishing to check out the program may visit ubcommunitydevelopment.com to fill out and submit an application.