SEBRING Revitalization plan teams village, state, Mahoning County

At least six businesses inquired about the program before it was announced.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local and state officials hope a government loan program will lead to revitalization of Sebring's downtown district.
The program was to be unveiled today at Tall Oaks Banquet Center in Sebring. Word has already begun to spread among the city's business community, though, said Teddy Ryan, Sebring village manager.
"It's an exciting project," Ryan said. "I've talked to a half-dozen businesses about it already and we haven't even announced the program."
It's a partnership among Sebring, Mahoning County and the Ohio Small Business Administration, said county Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock.
Businesses in Sebring can apply to borrow money from the SBA to start a new business or to expand or relocate an existing business, Sherlock said.
Ryan said village officials are encouraging business owners to improve the facades of downtown buildings, which would be covered under the program. The loan payback period will depend on the amount of and reason for the loan. The prime interest rate will apply.
Urban program model: He said the program is patterned closely after one that has been in place in Youngstown for several years.
"It's very hard to bring economic development to rural areas like Sebring," said Gilbert Goldberg, director of the SBA regional office in Cleveland. "This is an opportunity to do that."
He said it's a first-time partnership among village, county and state government and a local banking community. Loans will be made available through Sky Bank in Sebring, he said.
The county recently awarded Sebring a $150,000 economic development grant with revenue from a 0.5 percent county sales tax. The money will be used to cover "performance grants" that the village can award to businesses who meet project guidelines.
Loan partially forgiven: Loan recipients who complete their projects according to the guidelines can apply to have up to 15 percent of their loan forgiven, meaning they don't have to repay it, Goldberg said.
In those cases, the grant money from the county would be used to pay back the forgiven amounts. There is a $25,000 cap on the amount that can be forgiven for each loan, Ryan and Goldberg said.
"We're not giving out grant money to businesses," Sherlock said. "What we are doing is allowing economic growth to happen in Sebring."
The goal of the program is job creation, Goldberg said, noting that more than 200 jobs have been created under Youngstown's program.
He said Toni Casey, director of intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. SBA, is to attend the meeting because she's impressed with the cooperation of the governmental agencies and hopes to use this project as a model for other communities to follow.