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Local agencies offering resources during pandemic

By Richard Rourk

Businesses are left vulnerable to COVID-19, but several Unicoi County agencies are taking steps to help area businesses adapt during this trying time.

To assist local restaurants, the Mountain Harvest Kitchen facilities will remain open until further notice.

“Small businesses are bearing a unique financial burden but your support can help keep these companies afloat,” Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning. “To get through this challenging and uncertain time, it’s important that we come together as a community from corporations to government entities and non-profit organizations to support one another, and to help lift those hit hardest by the impact of this pandemic.”

According to Manning, Mountain Harvest Kitchen will be a hub of info for local eateries.

“As many businesses adjust their service models, we’ll be posting updates to our social media pages,” Manning said. “Many local restaurants and farms are now offering delivery options. Show up for them, in a responsible, six-foot bubble way. Share and help spread the word about what they are doing.”

Manning acknowledged that it is important to support local restaurants.

“We are dedicated to supporting the local food economy and will be listening to the needs of our members and community,” Manning said. “We encourage you to do your part to stay connected and know that by working together, we will come out of this a stronger community.”

Mountain Harvest Kitchen’s Facebook page is full of area eateries that offer curbside and home deliveries.

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Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) Director Tyler Engle confirmed that the JEDB is preparing to assist area businesses during the pandemic.

“We are already set up to be a single point of contact for economic development in the community,” Engle said. “So when we have a crisis like this, it puts us at an advantage if people have questions or concerns about how they keep their businesses going. If they have questions they can reach out to us and we will have an answer or we will be in position to get one for them quickly.”

According to Engle, there are several resources for businesses that are currently struggling.

“As far as state and federal programs there is the Small Business Administration that is loaning for-profit businesses up to $2 million at 3.75 percent interest for 30 years, and not-for-profit businesses can borrow the same amount for a 2.75 percent interest for 30 years,” Engle said. “There are forgiveness programs on borrowing and builds. We are also working on programs many have not heard of, such as temporary services for families in need provided by social services. That program can help any family making less than 85 percent of the median income. For example, a family of three making less than $52,000 a year and have lost work due to

COVID-19, they may be eligible for a $750 cash payment.”

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The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is working with U.S. Congressman Phil Roe and other chambers across Tennessee to gather information for local businesses.

“For the past few weeks, the chamber has been involved in conference calls and webinars with numerous legislators, including Representative Phil Roe, to gather information for relief for small businesses,” Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp said. “These conversations have given us insight into what the loan programs and the grants are going to look like.”

According to Delp, the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is closed due to COVID-19, but the staff will be working from home and keeping the website up to date with information. “Businesses can check our Facebook page for information on loans and grants,” Delp said. “In the meantime, while we can, it’s crucial that we shop with local businesses.”