Business News

Program to help Vermont businesses

Another program is launching to help Vermont businesses that are short on operating funds because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The program, administered by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Vermont Economic Development Authority, offers forgivable loans to businesses.

“This will help those businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic remain in operation, preserve jobs, and strengthen the economy,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a press release.

The legislature appropriated $19 million for the program. The funds come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden last year. 

Each business or nonprofit can apply for up to $350,000. They must show that in 2020 and 2021, they lost at least 22.5% of their adjusted net operating incomes compared to 2019. 

Businesses and nonprofits must put the money toward operating costs and not capital investments — but there are no other restrictions on spending. 

“The health of Vermont’s economy is dependent on the health of the small business community and the intent of this program is to help businesses with their cash flow needs to get back on stable footing so they can thrive beyond the pandemic,” the development authority’s chief executive officer, Cassie Polhemus, said in a press release. 

Applications from Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous and people of color will be given priority. Priority will also be given to the hardest hit sectors, including agriculture, child care, food service, travel and tourism and lodging. 

Kim Donahue, owner of The Inn at Round Barn Farm, a year-round destination wedding venue in Waitsfield, intends to apply to offset increased costs around payroll, supply, food and heating oil. She would otherwise be using retirement savings and other personal assets to get through the winter. 

She said the pandemic hit her business particularly hard, losing 95% of her 2020 revenue.

“You can’t lose a year’s worth of revenue and survive,” she said. 

Gatherings still faced restrictions in 2021. Customers who had planned weddings with 125 to 150 guests were now planning on 25 or 50 guests. She lost 75% of her revenue in 2021, she said. 

This year, she has faced supply chain problems, rising prices and difficulties hiring people. For the 2022 weddings, she had signed contracts as early as 2019, often for weddings that kept getting postponed by the pandemic — and costs have risen since. For example, in some cases she was charging $20 or $25 an hour for labor but is now paying $40. One month last winter, she paid $12,000 for heating oil.

To boot, guests were still canceling this year because they contracted COVID or got caught up in airline issues.

Going into this winter, she said, bookings are down because customers are worried about a recession, and 2023 bookings are still lagging. 

“We’ve been waiting a long time to be able to take advantage of this (loan), and the need is still there,” Donahue said.

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