All across Pennsylvania, families are struggling because too many people are out of work. There are thousands of men and women who are looking for employment, but unable to find a job.
The unemployment rate is harrowing 9.3 percent in Luzerne County.This far outpaces both national and state unemployment rates. Our region has had the highest unemployment rate in the state for the past 31 months. For nearly three years, Northeastern Pennsylvania families have been waiting for the economy to turn around and jobs to become available.
Job creation remains my top priority. That's why it is imperative that our communities and local businesses have the tools available to spur job creation and business activity. Given two recent developments in the area of capital availability involving both county and state programs, there are new opportunities for Luzerne County businesses.
After flooding devastated our area in September of 2011, many wondered whether our affected small businesses and our communities would be able to recover. Thanks to hard work, community pride and the success of the Luzerne County Flood Recovery Loan Program -- our flood-effected families and small businesses are getting back on their feet.
The Luzerne County Flood Recovery Loan Program offered by MetroAction -- a nonprofit community development organization -- provided 22 flood-damaged businesses with loans totaling $1.67 million. These loans directly created or retained roughly 200 jobs in our area -- jobs that are especially essential in a region with the highest unemployment rate in the commonwealth.
With more than $2 million remaining in the fund, the program has now transitioned into the Luzerne County Small Business Loan Program -- which offers Luzerne County business loans of up to $100,000 to be used for working capital, real estate acquisition and construction, equipment purchases and upgrades, environmental compliance and pollution control and prevention.
To be eligible, businesses must be located within Luzerne County and the borrower must have a credit score of 500 or higher.
Another opportunity for local businesses was recently announced by the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).The department lowered interest rates for five business-loan programs including the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund, the Small Business First Program, the Pollution Prevention Assistance Program and the Export Financing Program.The rates were reduced from 2.75 percent to 1.50 percent.
Additionally, the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) approved a reduction in its interest rates to 1.50 percent. PIDA and DCED will also waive fees charged to the borrowers. The new rates initially will be in place for applications received through March 31, 2013.
The reduced rates are one of the key recommendations of a report by the Governor's Manufacturing Advisory Council -- which outlined 15 recommendations, including the need to improve access to capital for Pennsylvania businesses.
Our small businesses are the backbone of our national and state economy. According to Entrepreneur magazine, there are between 25 and 27 million small businesses in the United States that account for 60 to 80 percent of all jobs.
These community businesses are the real job creators that, with the help of these state programs, can help turn the tide on our region's chronically high unemployment and bring family-sustaining jobs back to Luzerne County.
Both the Luzerne County Small Business Loan Program and the lower interest rates for state loan programs are prime opportunities for Luzerne County businesses to grow their operations, expand their footprints, and, most important, put Northeastern Pennsylvanians back to work.
Pennsylvania State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon/Monroe) represenents residents of the 14th Legislative District.