Villages takes big steps to help small businesses

Citizens First Bank and The Villages Commercial Property Management Division are just two examples of how The Villages responded even before President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act.

The Villages is deploying all available resources to help its small businesses survive the impact of COVID-19.

Citizens First Bank and The Villages Commercial Property Management Division are just two examples of how The Villages responded even before President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act.

More than 150 commercial customers began preparing the paperwork this week in partnership with The Villages’ hometown community bank to seek a piece of the $349 billion in relief that became available Friday through the U.S. Small Business Administration under the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, said Lindsey Blaise, the bank’s president and CEO. It provides interest-free, forgivable loans to small businesses that retain employees.

“This will allow our businesses to retain their employees during this difficult time,” Blaise said. “Local businesses are the fabric of our community, and helping them maintain their financial strength is very important to us.”

The Villages also hired a consultant to assist in advising construction industry subcontractors and tenants in the commercial retail centers to apply not only to the Paycheck Protection Program, but also other federal and state stimulus programs such as the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Florida Small-Businesses Emergency Bridge Loan and also the Internal Revenue Service employee retention tax credit.

Over the past two weeks, The Villages CPM took several steps beyond distributing information about the CARES Act, such as providing businesses with sidewalk signs to help consumers identify which ones were open, said Scott Renick, The Villages director of commercial development.

“The Villages CPM team responded quickly to notify tenants the day before the signing of the CARES Act to begin compiling information that would be needed for the federal and state stimulus applications,” Renick said. “We also engaged a consultant prior the CARES Act being approved to assist with our small businesses.”

Frank Calascione, Sumter County’s economic development director, applauded The Villages for taking proactive steps to support the small-business community, because the SBA estimates that small businesses employ around 60 million workers and account for nearly 99.7% of the U.S. economy.

“We have such a vibrant small-business community,” he said. “So these stimulus programs are critically important.”

Businesses in and around The Villages also have access to the Florida Small Business Development Center at The Villages’ Sumter County Service Center and its free counseling services, Calascione said.

“There is infrastructure in place, and this is what we’re trained to do to make sure our businesses get the best information available about these programs through the state and federal government,” he said.

Businesses interested in the Paycheck Protection Program may call any Citizens First Bank branch, its main number at 352-753-9515 or even other participating banks, said Brad Weber, the community bank’s executive vice president and chief lending officer.

“We have a copy of the SBA Paycheck Protection Program application that we’re emailing not only to our customers, but also non-customers that have inquired about the program” Weber said. “If they call us, we’ll set up an appointment; and, we’ll have lenders working through the weekend.”

All businesses with 500 or fewer employees are eligible to apply for the paycheck loans, Weber said. That includes nonprofits, veterans organizations, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals and independent contractors.

Loans are available up to $10 million, and the loan will be forgiven if all proceeds are used for payroll costs and other designated business operating expenses in the eight weeks following the date of loan origination, Weber said. Collateral or personal guarantees are not required.

“We are the lender, unlike other SBA loan programs, in this case,” Weber said. “Our hometown community bank will be funding and servicing these loans.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.