By Marcia Love
It just got a little harder for small business start-ups to get off the ground.
When the provincial budget was tabled last Wednesday, Finance Minister Ken Krawetz announced the Small Business Loans Association program has been cut – a move that was made to save $750,000. While existing loans will continue to be managed, no new ones will be issued.
In Maple Creek, the cancellation affects both the Thundering Hills Loans Co-operative Ltd. and Maple Creek Heritage Small Business Loans Association Inc.
Dave Turner, chairman of Thundering Hills, said it’s disappointing news for the small businesses in smaller communities that depend on the loans program.
“We need the backing… because you can’t always get money from the bank,” he said.
With a number of commercial properties in the downtown vacant, and the push to promote shopping locally, loans to entrepreneurs are vital, he said. Last year it helped five small business start-ups in the area.
Turner is still waiting on the official word from Economy Minister Bill Boyd to determine if there is anything that could be replacing the program.
“It certainly won’t be the end of Thundering Hills at the moment, because we have loans out there – some people with loans that are going to last for the next five years,” he said.
Most of its loans have been to business owners in Maple Creek, but it has also assisted some in the Piapot and Cypress Hills areas. And with plans for an increase in the total amount the loans association could offer in a year, it was expected to get better.
“We thought this year was going to be a really good year,” Turner said, noting there were talks the pool would be increased from $200,000 to $300,000, and possibly higher if more people became involved. “Then suddenly they decided to cancel the program. I’m not sure whether it’s because across the province not many people were using it, but we were certainly using it quite a lot in the Southwest.”
The Maple Creek Heritage SBLA had a significant impact on restoration work being done in the Heritage District. Linked to the Maple Creek Main Street Program and the Town of Maple Creek’s Heritage Conservation Incentive Program, it offered loans up to $20,000 to anyone involved in either one.
“Fortunately, those that were approved prior to the program being cancelled do have access to that financing to move their projects forward,” said Royce Pettyjohn, Main Street Program co-ordinator. “But unfortunately, there’s no more opportunity for new property owners to access that financing.”
This is problematic, he said, as the Main Street Program is no longer a pilot program, but an ongoing provincial program.
While Thundering Hills has been around for at least 25 years, the Maple Creek Heritage SBLA was only established about two years ago. But it made it possible for many property owners to apply for matching grants and incentive programs. Continued on page 2
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“It’s all well and fine to get a grant, but if you don’t have access to the cash to match the grant or if you don’t have access to the cash to match the tax incentive program, it becomes very, very difficult to take advantage of those programs,” stated Pettyjohn.
He added property owners are fortunate that they are still able to match funding or tax incentive credits through financing provided by Community Futures Southwest.
The cancellation of the program also affects Red Coat Loans Co-operative Ltd. in Consul, which supported local groups and organizations there with the interest gained from loans.
Thundering Hills also benefited local groups and organizations such as Jack & Jill Co-operative Nursery School, the Oldtimers’ Museum and MCCS’s Renegade Players by donating the interest generated.
“A lot of community groups depend on the donations that we’re giving them at the end of the year,” Turner said.
Interest from the Maple Creek Heritage SBLA was given to the Maple Creek Main Street Program and used in streetscape enhancements such as banners, way-finding signage, benches and flower pots.