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IRVINE : Business Assistance Program Planned

This is a city that takes pride in its clean, modern and vibrant appearance.

Perhaps the only drawback in being so thoroughly pristine is that Irvine cannot take advantage of many grants, low-interest loans and other perks older municipalities use to revitalize urban centers.

But that might change.

City officials are drafting a plan designed to help local businesses expand and create new jobs. The plan would make low-interest federal loans available to small businesses and make it easier to obtain larger loans from the state.

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The idea is to help generate the kind of strong economic growth in Irvine that urban areas are producing through redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones.

The proposal comes as city and business leaders are teaming up to examine ways of improving the city’s business climate. Several committees are examining ways of reducing government regulations, attracting new businesses and keeping existing ones.

Officials said the plan to help businesses fits into this larger strategy of bringing more jobs into the city.

“We are already a very marketable city,” said Steve Weiss, Irvine’s principal planner for economic programs. With the business-assistance program, “we are going a little bit further.”

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The City Council is expected to vote in September on the proposal, which calls for the creation of new programs as well as the continuation of existing ones.

One new concept is to use federal community block grants to make modest low-interest loans to the businesses.

At least $100,000 a year would be earmarked for the loan program. Businesses could receive loans of between $5,000 to $50,000. Once a loan is repaid, the money would be lent again to another business, Weiss said.

The city currently allocates most community block grants to nonprofit agencies. Weiss said the business loan program would use excess grants not allocated to public service groups. The loan program would not cause a reduction in the amount of support to the nonprofits, he said.

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The proposal also attempts to streamline an existing state loan program that uses industrial-development bonds. Businesses seeking to expand can receive between $1 million and $10 million under the program, which uses state money allocated through the city.

City officials also want to continue and perhaps expand a fledging loan counseling service sponsored by the city, eight local banks and the Irvine Chamber of Commerce.

The program provides businesses with information about different banking services and lending practices. Businesses can receive printed information about the banks and can speak with an accountant.


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