ECICOG looking to dish out rest of CARES revolving loan fund

The East Central Iowa Council of Governments is still looking to allocate low-interest loans to businesses in Eastern Iowa affected by the pandemic or adding jobs that were negatively affected by COVID-19.

ECICOG so far has provided millions of dollars in rotating loans to business owners in Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Iowa, Cedar and Washington counties, but it still has more to provide with low interest rates through June.

ECICOG is a regional planning agency and intergovernmental council that started in 1973. The organization provides planning and programming assistance to Eastern Iowa’s cities, counties, businesses and other community organizations.

Robyn Johnson, the contracts administrator for ECICOG, said funds have historically come from recovery programs since the first $1.5 million received after the historic 2008 floods.

“During the pandemic, we got capitalized with $4.5 million in CARES funding and we have two years to get it out with those special stipulations, up to 0 percent financing,” Johnson said.

The organization has been working with businesses to distribute the federal funding since summer 2020. It has until June 30 to allocate the funding with the current interest rates.

Any new or expanding business in Linn, Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Jones and Washington counties can apply for revolving loans. So far, the average loan has been for about $100,000, but business owners can borrow between $25,000 and $500,000. All loans are a five- to seven-year term with interest rates being between 0 and 2 percent if applied for before June 30.

Business owners can apply online at Profit and nonprofit businesses can borrow money for furniture, fixtures and equipment, working capital and the purchase of real estate. However, construction is not eligible.

So far the program has helped over a dozen businesses in Eastern Iowa including The Olympic in Cedar Rapids, Brick Alley Pub and Sports Bar in Marion and Hatchet Jack’s in Iowa City, among others.

Johnson said that the program’s availability has been spread by word-of-mouth, but recently, ECICOG is trying to spread the funding to rural and minority-owned and women-owned businesses as well.

Johnson said she guesses the remaining $1.8 to $2 million could fund three to 10 more businesses at the current rates.

“The fund revolves around every month, so we always have money coming back to us. If someone is interested in July, the program is always here, but it’s about the current rates,” she said.

Adam Hahn of Pittsburgh, Penn, throws a hatchet at the wooden target during a team building exercise in 2018 at Hatchet Jack’s in Iowa City. The business is among those helped by rotating loans to business owners affected by the pandemic. (The Gazette)

Nick Carroll, a co-owner of Hatchet Jack’s, the hatchet-throwing bar in Iowa City and the first hatchet throwing bar to open in the state, said the loan program through ECICOG helped them keep running.

“We originally applied for a (Small Business Administration) loan and were turned down,” Carroll said. “ECICOG came in and they were great to work with and honestly saved our hides.”

Steve Shriver, the owner of the Olympic South Side Theater, Brewhemia and Eco Lips. has applied for the ECICOG’s loan programs multiple times for all of his businesses.

Eco Lips owner Steve Shriver poses for a portrait in 2021 in the warehouse of his company in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

“I first used it for Eco Lips for growth and ever since, I’ve been a huge fan,” Shriver said. “I think it’s the best-kept secret but I’m glad the word is getting out more because it’s been such a great resource.”

Shriver said the loan for The Olympic was essential to help put the business’ plan together. “Now, we’re finally getting great momentum,” he said. “I recommend this program to all local businesses because it’s important to use the funds because it’s revolving. We got to keep everything in motion as a community. I think it’s been a blessing for our community.”

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