John Maupin, (center), the chair of the St. Louis County Council-appointed Port Authority, goes over the agenda on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, after convening the first meeting of the body in a conference room outside the Council chambers in Clayton. Attending is (left to right), Robert Butler, Robert Birdsong, Mike Hejna, and Skip Mange. Not pictured is member Amy Hunter. Photo by Christian Gooden,

CLAYTON — The St. Louis County Port Authority is adding $1 million to a zero-interest loan fund set up by area banks and economic development agencies, bringing the local pool of funds up to $2.25 million — though officials say it’s still not enough money to serve all of the applicants.

The zero-interest loans are intended to provide up to $5,000 for working capital for any businesses in the city or county, with repayment over two years. Officials at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership hope the loans can help serve as a bridge until employers begin to receive the emergency U.S. Small Business Administration loans approved by Congress.

The bridge funding is designed to offer immediate capital and draw businesses to partnership staff who can connect them to lenders and resources that will “lead them to the federal funding,” Crim said at a port authority meeting Thursday.

Crim said demand for the federal lending programs President Donald Trump signed into law late last month is extremely high, and the programs have yet to put cash into business owners’ hands. Congress has already begun talking about adding to the funds with another stimulus bill.

“People haven’t gotten any money yet from these programs,” Crim said. “On the federal level, the program is oversubscribed.”

Locally, the partnership program established in conjunction with the St. Louis Development Corp. just over two weeks ago is also oversubscribed. Some 600 businesses have submitted applications, according to the partnership’s Erica Henderson. At least some checks have been issued.

Yet the $1.25 million already committed to the program means there’s only money for 250 loans. Even with the additional port money, the program would still be oversubscribed.

The port authority board voted 4-2 on Thursday in support of adding the money. Its contribution will be focused on north St. Louis County and the Lemay area. About $225,000 of the $1 million will be for small grants of up to $500 for businesses.

One of the board members who opposed it, Mike Hejna, said the partnership staff should focus on connecting businesses with federal dollars through the emergency package because $5,000 is barely a week’s payroll for many companies.

“I don’t see this program having any real economic benefit,” Hejna said.

But other board members and partnership staff said the cash is critical, particularly for small neighborhood businesses in poorer areas that are trying to survive while awaiting federal help through larger loans.

“One of the things we learned from the Ferguson experience … is that these businesses need some level of resources right away,” Crim said.

Businesses can go to, call a new hotline at 314-615-1777, or email to learn more about the local and federal lending programs.

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