County considering new revolving loan fund

Pandemic relief money would be used to replace bygone program that was seen as key to promoting local business growth
Ozaukee Press Staff

Ozaukee County officials are in early discussions about financing a new revolving loan fund program using federal Covid relief dollars.

Kathleen Cady Schilling, executive director of Ozaukee Economic Development, said she has approached county officials with a proposal to use a portion of American Rescue Plan Act funds the county received to create a new revolving loan fund that local businesses could use to help finance a new building, expansion or equipment at half the prime interest rate.

Schilling said both groups supported the prospect of creating a new revolving loan fund. Schilling said she is working with County Administrator Jason Dzwinel to see if the federal funding can, in fact, be used to establish the fund.

“We are currently trying to figure out if the ARPA regulations will allow us to do that,” she said.

If it can be done, Schilling said OED will begin hashing out details with the county before seeking approval of the new loan fund.

The amount of funding will determine  how the fund operates and how large the loans it offers are. A smaller base may only permit loans between $10,000 and $25,000 while a larger base would permit more.

“If we were able to get a larger amount to start the base of the program, we could do larger loans,” Schilling said. “We could do $150,000, potentially even $200,000 loans.”

Schilling said creation of the new fund would provide opportunities for loans in areas of the county that lost access when the county’s old revolving loan fund ceased in 2018.

The old fund started in 1989 and provided many in the county with the money needed to start or improve their businesses. The fund used money provided to the county by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development before an audit of the State of Wisconsin in 2018 resulted in HUD discontinue revolving loan funds that were started or had received funds after 2000.

The Ozaukee RLF, which had received funding through the Community Development Block Grant after 2000, was discontinued. About $1 million left in the loan fund was awarded to Lasta Senior Living Campus to remodel and improve apartments.

“We lost the fund but at least we were able to utilize those dollars for a good program,” Schilling said.

While communities like the City of Mequon, Village of Saukville, City of Port Washington and Village of Grafton were able to maintain their revolving loans funds, only residents of the respective communities are eligible to receive loans.

Schilling said the municipal loan funds are still utilized but residents in communities like the Village of Belgium, Village of Thiensville, Town of Grafton and the town and village of Fredonia are not able to take advantage of them.

“If your business is in one of those community, unfortunately we don’t have a loan program to assist you,” she said.

Particularly in towns where there are limited staff members available to guide business owners, Schilling said it can be difficult to find financial resources outside of bank loans. With a county-wide revolving loan fund, every county resident would be eligible for funding.

“We don’t ever want to not help certain areas. Our goal is to be countywide,” she said.

Throughout the life of the old RFL, Schilling said only two borrowers ever defaulted on their loans. One of those was for the former Smith Bros Restaurant building in Port Washington. Duluth Trading Company later took up the space and became one of Port’s landmark businesses.

“Duluth and the businesses there have really been a strong benefit,” she said.

Many businesses in the county secured and paid off loans through the old RLF, including Oldenburg Metal Tech in Saukville, Core Consulting in Thiensville, Custom Wire Technologies in Port Washington and the Fermatorium in Cedarburg.

Halo owner Stacie Cherubini used a $70,000 loan to place a down payment on the building at 110 E. Main St. her business occupies and to make renovations to the structure she said had sat empty for about two years.

Cherubini said she had already borrowed from a bank to purchase the building but still needed assistance to make the down payment.

“If those funds weren’t available to me as a small business, my small business would not be here and who knows how long this moldy building would have been sitting here,” she said.

Cherubini said she is aware of many pandemic-related grants available to established small businesses, but for those who are trying set up shop or move locations, a revolving loan is a useful way to push a business forward at a low cost.

Having operated her business in Milwaukee for a time, Cherubini said, it’s easier to find funding opportunities like the revolving loan fund in smaller municipalities than large cities.

“I’m happy to have received it. It worked out great,” she said.

With so many other needs jockeying for ARPA funds, Schilling said she is concerned the new revolving loan fund may not be approved, but the program’s track record may give it a boost.

“It’s always one of those questions of what makes sense and what works best. Our hope is that we have a proven track record now and that the County Board would be supportive of our program,” she said.

Schilling noted that the county has high property and labor costs, making it difficult for some businesses to get started. She said a new RLF would help make it less expensive to operate a business in Ozaukee.

“Whatever we can do to try to make our community more attractive to businesses, we feel like it’s a strong benefit,” she said.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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