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Steady stream of businesses look for federal help after rockslide

Small businesses struggling to pay bills after a rockslide shut down Interstate 40 now have the option of applying for federal low-interest loans.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering up to $2 million in assistance to each company that demonstrates a serious impact from the rockslide.

The road closure has led to emptier restaurants, truck stops and motels near I-40 in Haywood County.

Much of Western North Carolina is being affected since thru traffic, especially truck traffic, is being channeled away from the region.

Last week, a steady stream of small business owners, hoping to receive federal aid, headed to a temporary business recovery center set up by the SBA in Clyde.

“This is a great response,” said Gary Davisson, a loan officer with the SBA. “Word of mouth has been good.”

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Over the course of three days, about 55 business owners from as far away as Cocke County, Tenn., consulted with SBA officials.

About 42 business owners decided to apply for a loan, with 36 representing Haywood alone. Four companies in Buncombe, one from Henderson, and one from Cocke County have also applied.

Most of these business owners represented motels, hotels, restaurants and convenience stores, but there were also electricians, construction contractors, towing companies, and heating and oil companies in the mix.

The disaster relief loans are open to small businesses in Haywood County and all contiguous counties. That includes Buncombe, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, Swain and Transylvania counties in North Carolina, and Cocke and Sevier counties in Tennessee.

But that doesn’t mean companies will be competing against each other over the loans, according to Davisson.

“There is no pool of money designated for this,” said Davisson, adding that each business that shows a need will receive financial assistance.

Still, only businesses that can demonstrate a direct impact from the rockslide will be granted a loan. Most businesses that apply will receive a response in three weeks, according to Davisson.

Business owners still have plenty of time to get their application together, as the deadline won’t roll around until Aug. 24, 2010.

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