Adams County seeks to spark small businesses with loan program

To reach more retail and service industries in Adams County, the Adams Economic Alliance has started the Spark Loan Program. 

The revolving loan fund is aimed at helping small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by sparking investment and growth. 

The alliance comprises three organizations – Adams County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC), Adams County Industrial Development Authority (ACIDA), and Adams County General Authority (ACGA). 

“Adams Economic Alliance is excited to offer the brand-new Spark Loan Program in our toolkit to support those industries most impacted by the pandemic,” Kaycee Kemper, vice president of Adams Economic Alliance, said in an email. 

Our focus is on the retail and service sectors and supporting socially economically disadvantaged individuals as business owners. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Spark Loan program, however, is its design–as a revolving loan fund that will continue to support and spark Adams County’s small businesses well into the future.” 

To be eligible, a small business must be for-profit and have less than 500 employees. All small businesses that meet requirements are eligible to apply. Among those particularly encouraged to apply are retail and service industries, along with socially and economically disadvantaged individuals (SEDI-owned businesses) and very small businesses (VSBs). 

Small business owners can use Spark Loans for the following: 

  • Acquire equipment or inventory. 
  • Acquire working capital. 
  • Pay soft, start-up or franchise costs. 
  • Produce, manufacture, or deliver goods or services. 
  • Purchase real estate, do construction, renovation, or tenant improvement. 
  • Refinance existing debt (conditions apply). 

As part of the Pennsylvania State Small Business Credit Initiative (PA-SSBCI), the Spark Loan Program was established with federal funding through the Federal State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). Reauthorized by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the SSBCI was instituted as a response to the economic effects of the pandemic and is administered by the Department of the Treasury. 

Kemper said in a statement on the company’s site that as there “is strength in numbers, so the alliance developed a strategic plan and partnership with the EDC Finance Corporation, based in Lancaster, to administer these loans to the Adams and Lancaster County communities together.” 

The first round of funding available to qualified small businesses is $236,930 with two more tranches planned. 

“Once we begin the lending process, the program will constantly reseed and replenish itself, helping Adams County small businesses for years to come,” Kemper said.

Lancaster City Council awards millions to invest in community

A $5 million allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to invest in community facilities serving Lancaster City residents has been approved by the Lancaster City Council. 

The investment in 11 projects is aimed at supporting public programs, improving quality of life and public health, creating economic opportunity, and promoting equitable outcomes for residents.    

Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace called the investment an opportunity to make transformational investments in our community facilities that will enhance the quality of life for all residents.

“By leveraging ARPA funds to support these projects, we can create modern, accessible, and inclusive spaces that reflect our values and goals,” Sorace said in a statement.  

Following is a list of the allocations:

  • Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster - $600,000 to make improvements to their clubhouse spaces. 
  • Bright Side Opportunities Corporation – $500,000 to renovate existing facility. 
  • Church World Service - $250,000 to create a welcome center for refugees. 
  • Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County - $400,000 to renovate Bridge House and Crispus Attucks Center. 
  • Lancaster Public Library - $500,000 for new library construction costs. 
  • Lancaster Recreation Commission - $750,000 for facility expansion to serve recreational and childcare needs. 
  • SACA Development Corporation (Centro Hispano) - $500,000 for renovations to the Hispanic Community Center to provide human services. 
  • SACA Development Corporation (Tec Centro) - $500,000 for renovations to existing facility to provide vocational technical training. 
  • South Ann Concerned Neighbors - $250,000 to build a community hub that will include one affordable housing unit. 
  • Union Community Care - $500,000 to renovate and expand existing facility to create a dental clinic. 
  • Uni-Vision Childcare - $250,000 to renovate existing facility to expand Spanish Immersion Center for early education.

In 2021, $39.5 million in ARPA funding was allotted to the City of Lancaster. Also in 2021, a public engagement process regarding the use of ARPA funds was launched. An interest in improved community services in public health, youth support, parks, and recreation were identified via feed from the community.

In 2022, a $7.4 million allocation of ARPA funds to create and preserve affordable housing was approved by Lancaster City Council.

Harrisburg developer plans to create affordable housing

Long-time Harrisburg resident George Fernandez, who grew up in affordable housing, is addressing the shortage of low-income housing in the Capitol city.

“My main goal is to create affordable housing,” said Fernandez, who arrived with his family in Harrisburg from his native Dominican Republic 25 years ago and is founder and CEO of Fernandez Realty Group. “A great way to address the needs of the community is housing. That’s my passion.”

Fernandez said the need for affordable housing is only getting greater, and that the timeline for the development of housing isn’t keeping up with the demand. He encouraged local government officials to make dollars available from local grants and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and get federal funding to address the affordable housing crisis.

He added that the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) “carries a lot of stigmas and I would encourage more education that these folks are our fellow neighbors and families, and we need to care more about our local community and our region.

“Having a home to sleep in is the foundation for healthy living. People can’t worry about food or a job if they don’t have a home.”

Fernandez Realty Group plans to buy the 1.03-acre vacant lot that previously served as the site for Woodward Elementary School. The property is located at 1001 N. 18th St. and was approved for sale in January 2023 by the court-appointed Harrisburg School District Receiver Dr. Lori Suski.

Fernandez expects to buy the lot for $240,000 and build a four-story building housing 48 affordable apartment units. Each unit of Woodward Lofts will be a fully furnished, one-bedroom, open loft apartment for low-income residents. The units will be based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The expected monthly rent for each apartment will range from $850 to $925.

“These apartments will be fully furnished with the tools and resources people need in the kitchen,” Fernandez said.

The 61,225-square foot work-and-play community will include clothing and food banks, a community room, onsite daycare, 1,500-square feet of rain garden for free fruits and vegetables, and parking. A clinic and pharmacy may also be included.

“We’re giving affordable housing a new face,” said Fernandez. “We’re creating a live-here, work-here, play-here model. We’re creating a category where no categories existed.”

Fernandez said the project will reportedly cost $17 million and will take three-to-five years to complete.

The vacant lot has been on the market for several years, Woodward Elementary School being torn down in 2016.

The final sale is pending the district’s receiving approval from the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. State law dictates that private sale of school property mut receive court approval. The City of Harrisburg Zoning and Hearing Board must approve the project’s submission, and the Harrisburg City Council will need to approve the land development plan.

The actual closing is expected to be reached “on or before April,” Fernandez said.

“It takes about a year to finish off the permits,” said Fernandez, “and two-to-three years of construction.”

At time of writing, Fernandez said there is not much of an update on the Woodward property as he is waiting on the Court of Common Pleas to approve the sale.

“We have a lot of interest already on leasing the daycare and the retail space,” he added, “so we’re making some progress.”

In October 2022, Fernandez Realty Group broke ground on Sycamore Homes, an affordable housing project on Sycamore St. in Harrisburg. The $3.4 million four-story building will list 23 studio apartments that are fully furnished. Fernandez said he already has a waiting list of about 200 people for Sycamore Homes.

Fernandez is also CEO of Color & Culture, made up of Harrisburg-based firms Latino Connection and PPO&S.

Applications for affordable housing available for key funding program

A $100 million program meant to construct and rehabilitate affordable housing units is now accepting applications. 

Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) announced Tuesday that the Housing Options Grant Program-Multi-family (HOP-MF) Program is now accepting applications. 

Established as part of the 2022-23 Pennsylvania State Budget, the $100 million program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and will be used to construct and rehabilitate affordable housing units. The HOP-MF Program is operated by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). 

The applications follow the historic 22-23 state budget investment in affordable and workforce housing. 

“My Democratic colleagues and I were able to work across party lines to deliver major investments in housing in the last budget,” Hughes said in a statement. “We are thankful for the leadership from our former governor, Tom Wolf, President Biden, and our leaders in Congress who helped make this possible.” 

Hughes added that investing in affordable housing is a crucial way to restore and rebuild Pennsylvania’s neighborhoods and brighten the future of the state’s communities. 

“All families deserve a safe and healthy place to call home,” said Hughes. “Eligible parties should apply now!” 

The HOP-MF program is made up of three subprograms – the Emergency Grant Initiative, Preservation Initiative, and New Construction Initiative. 

The Emergency Grant Initiative is designed to provide funding for emergency repairs to existing deed-restricted affordable housing throughout the state so existing tenants are not displaced. 

The aim of the Preservation Initiative is to provide funding to rehabilitate properties on a non-emergency basis with the goal of creating/extending the affordability period and making certain sufficient repairs to the property to ensure the stability of the building through the affordability period. 

The New Construction Initiative/Construction Conversion Initiative is designed to provide financing for the construction of affordable rental properties. 

HOP-MF applications are open through 4 p.m. EST on May 23. The application is available online at Housing Options Grant Program-Multi-family Application – HOPMF (hopmfphfa.org). 

Grants will be awarded no later than Dec. 31, 2024, and the entire funding must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Pennsylvania Catalyst Loan Fund aimed at aiding small businesses

The Capital Region Economic Development Corporation (CREDC) has announced its participation with five other economic development organizations in securing $20 million through the State’s Small Business Credit Initiative, named “The Pennsylvania Catalyst Loan Fund.” 

Should the state meet utilization requirements, funding will be available to lend through three tranches. The requirements include loaning 5.7% of the funds to qualified “Very Small Businesses” of 10 or less workers and 31.29% to SEDI (Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals) Borrowers. 

Open for application is the first tranche of approximately $6 million for all participating economic development organizations. Of that tranche, $1.2 million is reserved for qualifying small businesses in CREDC’s service area of Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties. If all three tranches can be accessed, a total of $4 million will be reserved for lending in these three counties. 

A small business must meet the following requirements to be eligible to apply for the Pennsylvania Catalyst Loan: 

  • Be a for-profit business. 
  • Demonstrate a need for credit. 
  • Meet the definition of a small business according to the SBA size standards.
  • Operate in Pennsylvania. 

Funds can be used to support various sorts of business, including the following: 

  • Fixed Assets 
  • Inventory & Supplies 
  • Soft Costs 
  • Wages 
  • Working Capital 

Every dollar loaned by the Pennsylvania Catalyst Fund must be matched by at least one dollar from a private credit source. CREDC and partnering economic development organizations are working to identify private lending sources interested in supporting the program and small businesses. 

The State’s Small Business Credit Initiative comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. ARPA included provisions to establish loan funds to help small businesses recover and rebuild in response to the impact of COVID-19. 

Lancaster City to invest funds in community facilities

The City of Lancaster looks to invest a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in community facilities serving Lancaster City residents

Capital projects that support public programs, improve quality of life and public health, create economic opportunity, and promote equitable outcomes for residents will be funded by the investment. 

Sealed proposals will be accepted via the Pennsylvania Electronic Document and Bid Management website, www.pennbid.net, through 11 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2023. 

The City of Lancaster said it is seeking creative, sustainable ideas for projects that enhance community facilities. Examples include, but are not limited to: 

  • Building or renovation of community health centers, youth centers, libraries, centers for arts and culture, parks and public places   
  • Building or renovating childcare, education, health, and social service facilities. 

ARPA funding in the amount of $39.5 million was allotted to the City of Lancaster in 2021. In September 2021, a public engagement process regarding the use of ARPA funds was launched. 

Community feedback identified a desire for improved community services in areas including public health, youth support, parks and recreation, and more. Community facilities are at the forefront of delivering these services to residents in Lancaster City

The City of Lancaster will offer three virtual Q&A sessions for interested applicants to attend. The sessions are scheduled for Dec. 6 at 11 a.m., Dec. 20 at 1 p.m., and Jan. 4 at 4 p.m. Information on how to join will be posted on PennBid and cityoflancasterpa.com.