LA GRANDE — As coronavirus cases surged last week in Union County and winter continued its steady approach, the struggles of the past year were fresh in the minds of many La Grande business owners.
While most La Grande businesses have thus far survived the pandemic relatively unscathed, many have done so thanks to local, state and federal aid programs.
“Most of our businesses are holding on, with some actually having benefited from the pandemic, including businesses that offer items that are necessary right now like face masks,” said Christine Jarski, economic development director for the city of La Grande.
Jarski said the city still has funding available for businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including a low-interest loan program reserved for businesses within city limits. The city issues one such loan to The Cell Fix, a local electronics repair company.
“There’s been a lot of assistance utilized,” said Harold Wolford, who works at The Cell Fix. “I think there have been local and state level assistance that’s been utilized that’s definitely been appreciated. … We’re adjusting, we’re keeping up with everything, but there were definitely times that that assistance was essential and appreciated.”
The program offers loans of up to $10,000 to affected businesses at 1% interest.
The loans are issued on 48-month terms, and payments are deferred for the first six months. The second six months require interest-payments only.
Jarski said the city has awarded 24 of the loans to local businesses, and the program has about $80,000 in remaining funds. She also stressed additional resources are available, including grants through the city and various federal programs.
To qualify for the city’s emergency loans, businesses must be physically located within La Grande city limits and cannot have employed more than 50 people when operating at full strength. Businesses also must have been relatively stable before the negative effect of the pandemic hit.
Wolford said business has been steady through the pandemic so far. He also noted if The Cell Fix hadn’t received assistance, he was unsure if “we’d still be here.”
With winter weather nearing and the travel season at an end, some experts expect the coronavirus will exacerbate seasonal slowdowns for some business.
“Our hotels and motels, now that the travel season is over, they’re going to see negative impacts,” said Greg Smith, director of the Eastern Oregon University Small Business Development Center, La Grande. “People who don’t have to travel are not.”
Not all businesses have experienced contractions due to the pandemic, according to Smith, who noted, “If you’re running a liquor store, you’re doing extraordinarily well.”
Businesses interested in assistance programs should visit the Union County Chamber of Commerce website. Any business considering closing can contact Jarski, the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District or the Small Business Development Center.