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Loans of up to $50,000 are available for businesses and individuals in Northwest Georgia hurt by the pandemic.

The loans are for businesses and individuals who lost their job due to the coronavirus who want to start a new business, said Jennifer Whorton, a loan officer with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, an organization that offers technical assistance to local governments, regional planning and economic assistance.

The funds are offered using $500,000 from the Micro-Loan Fund of the Economic Development Administration under the 2020 COVID-19 stimulus package. The loan program doesn't have an end date at this point, Whorton said. Nine loans have been awarded so far, and Jackson said there hasn't been a trend in the kind of businesses being funded.

"The businesses have been from some small vineyards in Ellijay and Blue Ridge to consulting companies, [certified public accountants], bakeries, just all kinds of different small businesses," she said in a phone interview.

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Businesses in the 15 counties in Northwest Georgia the commission serves — including Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Gordon, Murray, Walker and Whitfield — can apply.

The loans, with an interest rate of 1% to 5%, can be used for re-opening businesses; to retain, hire or rehire employees; pay off old bills; or to purchase machinery or equipment that will help diversify a business, according to a fact sheet from the commission.

"People just need enough to get caught up on payables, things like that. Maybe buy new equipment or fixtures and furniture to diversify their business since [COVID-19]," Whorton said.

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Businesses or individuals interested in applying or needing more information should contact Whorton by email at jwhorton@nwgrc.org or call 706-272-2300.

Existing businesses have to prove a pre-pandemic credit-worthy history, and new businesses will need financial projections. Those wanting to start a new business can get help from the Small Business Development Center operated by the University of Georgia, she said.

"They [the Small Business Development Center] assist small businesses with coming up with financial projects and starting a business plan and things like that," Whorton said. "Just to get them ready for borrowing."

Help for entrepreneurs from the Small Business Development Center is provided for free, she added.

After all the money is loaned, the fund will revolve to add new funds. There's a possibility that the Economic Development Administration will change the restrictions so the funds could be used for other things as well, Whorton said, and local officials will know more at the end of July.

Amy Jackson, president and CEO of the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, gave a snapshot of how the pandemic impacted the county in a phone interview.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga area governments will receive millions in COVID-19 relief funds)

Businesses in the county didn't have the economic hit those in many other communities did nationwide, Jackson said, because the governor allowed them to reopen as fast as possible. Staffing was a problem that persists — especially in restaurants and big manufacturers — and the chamber has been hosting job fairs to help alleviate the problem.

"While we did have some restaurants to close and a few stores, for the most part, it was people who were thinking about retiring already, and it just maybe gave them the push to retire a year or two earlier than they originally had planned," she said.

She gave the example of the Sear's Shoe Store that's been in business for 35 years and a few small businesses in Ringgold's downtown area with owners who chose early retirement.

Some businesses took advantage of the federal financial help from economic injury disaster loans and the Paycheck Protection Program, and Jackson said others benefited from Chattanoogans and other Tennesseans patronizing Georgia businesses due to their less restrictive masking requirements.

Tax revenues actually went up from 2020 to 2021 in Catoosa County, Jackson said.

As for other businesses that did well during the pandemic, she said the parking lots of Home Depot and Lowe's were always filled, and businesses that catered to outdoor activities like gardening and enjoying nature did well, too.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

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