Enterprise Zone Expansion Opens Loan Fund to Projects Throughout Mercer County

HERMITAGE, Pa. – Expansion of the Shenango Valley Enterprise Zone will make more than $2 million in low-interest loan funds available to business borrowers throughout Mercer County, local development leaders said.

The expansion is effective immediately, following all six member communities approving a change to the zone’s bylaws permitting the expansion, according to Rod Wilt, executive director of Penn-Northwest Development Corp.

Wilt and Brent Ward, president and owner of Integrated Fabrication & Machine Inc. in Greenville and president of the Shenango Valley Enterprise Zone’s board of directors, confirmed Wednesday that Wheatland Borough has approved the bylaws change permitting communities throughout the county to access the zone’s loan fund.

The loan fund, originally established with money from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development in 1985, has an available balance of about $2.5 million, Ward said.

Before the bylaws change, only projects in the zone’s six member communities – the boroughs of Wheatland, Sharpsville and Greenville and the cities of Sharon, Hermitage and Farrell – were eligible for financing through the loan fund.

“It passed unanimously, which is excellent – very progressive,” Ward remarked.

“Any economic opportunity that comes up through the county we have the opportunity now to participate in that,” he added. “Anything that goes on within the county has a positive impact through the entire county.”

With historically low interest rates offered by banks until recently, there hadn’t been much interest in low-interest loan funds such as those offered by organizations like Penn-Northwest, Wilt said. Now, with the increase in the interest rates being offered by bands, such funds are getting more attention.

“Our pipeline for loans is probably as full as it’s been in a while,” Wilt said, 

Expanding the eligible area for the enterprise zone funds streamlines the lending process, Ward said. “You don’t have to back up and say, ‘Is the property within the enterprise zone or not within the enterprise zone?’ It’s just a more efficient process from that perspective,” he said.

Penn-Northwest, which has its own low-interest revolving loan fund, is a partner lender with the enterprise zone, Wilt said. The Penn-Northwest funds are mainly for building expansions and equipment purchases, while the enterprise zone has “a retail component” to its funds.

The organization is in the process of rewriting the bylaws for its revolving loan fund, which has about $1.1 million available to lend, but for now it can only finance commercial businesses, real estate and equipment in partnership with the enterprise zone.

“What this does now is it opens up the enterprise zone funds to companies that previous to this would not quality simply because of their location, not because of any other mitigating factor,” Wilt said.

“We’re trying to be innovative in ways that we can help companies large and small across the entire county,” he continued. “Having a pool of funds like the enterprise zone has [means] that we can market, from Grove city to Greenville to Sandy Lake back down to the Valley is a big, big win for the county.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.