SAINT PAUL - A coalition of public, private and nonprofit groups have joined together to provide new tools to help businesses survive during the construction of the Central Corridor LRT line-and thrive after LRT begins passenger service in 2014.
Today, several business owners from the corridor — plus Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak — came together to introduce a corridor-wide “Ready for Rail” initiative that will help strengthen the small businesses currently operating along the Central Corridor route.
Its sponsor, the Central Corridor Business Resources Collaborative, spans business organizations, nonprofit community developers, local governments and the Metropolitan Council. The Business Resources Collaborative formed in 2009 to coordinate various community-led planning efforts addressing business and economic development in the Central Corridor.
The “Ready for Rail” initiative (www.ReadyforRail.net
) identifies existing resources and services available to help businesses and property owners get ready for rail — and makes it much easier for them to learn about and use those services. In addition, the group’s partners have created new programs that address marketing and financial challenges that businesses may face during the construction phase.
"The businesses in this corridor are here today because of the passion and hard work of their owners,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “In the face of this major construction project, they may need help expanding their marketing in order to keep their cash registers full. So our immediate focus has been on helping business owners prepare for their construction season — and on reminding the wider community that this is a good time to get to know University Avenue and its many terrific places to eat and shop."
Small businesses and property owners can find the help they need through a coordinated network of outreach specialists, drop-in centers, business associations and local government offices. As a result of the Business Resource Collaborative’s efforts, no matter which of these an owner first contacts, he or she will be directed to the appropriate information and services.
Taking action now is vital, the group emphasizes. To underscore the point, it announced the creation of a $1.5 million fund that will offer loans to help small businesses with up to $2 million in gross sales. If a business located along the line has taken the right steps to prepare and can establish that it suffered a significant financial loss in the wake of construction, it can apply for an interest-free, deferred loan.
The Small Business Loan Fund will be created with contributions of $1 million from the Metropolitan Council and $500,000 from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.
Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell said, “Because they helped create the unique character of the corridor, we want these independent businesses to thrive and enjoy the opportunities that will follow our $1 billion public investment in the Central Corridor Line. This small business loan program offers a safety net for those owners who did everything they could and are still threatened by a construction-related financial loss.”
Many of the other highlighted resources and services are available to businesses in the corridor for free or at low cost. They include:
• Business consulting in areas such as accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, retail management and merchandising, and business and financial planning;
• Financial assistance for working capital, building improvements, energy efficiency measures, and real estate acquisition — including below-market loans and matching grants;
• Marketing programs that assist individual businesses, as well as joint efforts that promote the corridor and specific neighborhoods along the line. A corridor-wide marketing campaign is expected to launch this fall.
Another critical resource will be timely, ongoing information about construction activities, so businesses can plan ahead and adjust operations if necessary. The Construction Communication Committees formed by the Metropolitan Council will bring together representatives of business and resident groups with project contractors to ensure construction-related concerns are identified early and dealt with swiftly.
Chris Ferguson owns the Stadium Village Dairy Queen/Orange Julius and Bywater Business Solutions on the west end of the Corridor and is a member of the Business Resources Collaborative. “As owners, we recognize having many strong businesses along a vital corridor helps us all. The Business Resources Collaborative offers a way we can all prepare for the light rail and then thrive together when LRT is here.”