Rumford Economic Development Director George O’Keefe, right, and Town Manager Stacy Carter, center, discuss economic issues with U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, second from left, and Small Business Administration Rural Affairs Director Michelle Christian, left, at the Town Hall on Wednesday. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Economic Development Director George O’Keefe told Congressman Jared Golden and a Small Business Administration official Wednesday that grants of $10,000 are needed to spur local business.

“I feel very strongly that there should be a way for us to be able to provide micro-enterprise grants,” O’Keefe said during a meeting at the Town Hall. “There’s a barrier that shouldn’t exist,” he said, “especially in a case where someone is credit worthy.

“You’re talking about $10,000 . . . There are people, who, for $10,000 of grant money, would be willing to sign on the dotted line, and you’d get it out of the tax returns for the next 10 years if they fail or default on it for some reason,” he said.

Not having that “hurts us, badly,” he said. “This Island would be full if I had that kind of money to work with, individually.”

The Island is the downtown business district.

Michelle Christian, rural affairs director for the Small Business Administration’s mid-Atlantic region, asked O’Keefe if he believed it would take that little to get going.

“Oh yes. No question,” O’Keefe said.

“We want to attract business and tax base that supports what we have,” Town Manager Stacy Carter said.

“The lenders are trying to be very conservative in terms of how they consider a business owner’s potential assets that get counted up towards qualifying,” Golden said. “I think George is right. The problem is really that people are having a hard time getting to yes on the loan side.”

“A $10,000 micro is a totally different thing to us than a $50,000,” O’Keefe said. “We need the ability for somebody to walk in the door and be like ‘I want to do something really small. I just need enough to get a space open.'”

Christian said micro-loans come with support from her agency.

“SBA has all those free services,” she said. “We don’t want people to go online and Google how to obtain a loan because they’re put at risk.”

“That’s where your advising is very positive,” O’Keefe said. “If you have the ability for someone to walk in the door and look at $10,000, you get to have that two- to three-hour conversation with them, and a couple of repeat visits.”

“And they stay with you,” Christian said. “So you have that support during your business life. And that’s invaluable. People go out and spend a lot of money on these business services that we provide.”

Following the 30-minute meeting, the group visited several small businesses downtown.

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