$1 million IRP replenishes HELP Fund

Money available as low-interest financing for projects in Heartland customer communities

More opportunities for growth are available in Heartland communities. Heartland’s revolving loan program, the HELP Fund, was recently recapped with $1 million from USDA Rural Development.

The HELP Fund, or Heartland Economic development Loan Program, finances projects involving business ownership and expansion, job creation and retention, and entrepreneurial endeavors. It utilizes money from USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) to promote growth and development in Heartland customer communities.

To date, Heartland has awarded more than $4 million to over 30 recipients through the HELP Fund. The program can also be linked to more than 550 jobs created or saved.

Financing has contributed to infrastructure improvements, regional preparations for growth, investments in new businesses and more.

Distinct advantages

According to Heartland Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree, the HELP Fund is a valuable program because of its favorable terms.

“Our interest rate is typically one to one and a half points lower than bank rates, and the loan terms are designed to make businesses successful,” he said.

The program also promotes local lending institutions by requiring participants to partner with them for financing. This provides risk distribution and allows Heartland to better utilize the local banks’ expertise and resources.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the HELP Fund is the fact that it’s revolving. Every dollar lent through the program returns a profit for Heartland in interest.

“Every dollar we make, we can put back to work in our customer communities,” Crabtree said.

Federal support

This is the fourth time the HELP Fund has been replenished with IRP money. Heartland also received financing in 2006, 2009 and 2016.

IRP awards financing to intermediary lenders, such as Heartland, who re-lend to businesses to improve economic conditions and create jobs in rural communities.

Heartland must apply for funds, and USDA determines how much to award based on a number of factors, including jobs created, past success and more.

“USDA recognizes we’ve been good stewards with the funds in the past, and we plan to continue that practice,” Crabtree said. “We’re grateful they’ve chosen to bolster our program once again, which will help our customer utilities expand, create jobs and improve quality of life.”

Expanded coverage

Because the HELP Fund is made up of IRP Funds, it’s subject to certain rules and provisions, established by USDA.

For instance, USDA limits the number of counties IRP funds can serve. In 2016, Crabtree went through an elaborate process to expand Heartland’s coverage to include both Minnesota and Iowa. As a result, Heartland was able to provide assistance with Madelia Strong fire recovery efforts in Madelia, MN and award gap financing for a much-needed convenience store in Akron, IA.

For our most recent recap, Crabtree revised the territory to include Grove City, MN and Heartland’s newest customer, Valentine, NE.

“We see unique opportunities for job creation and business expansion in Grove City and Valentine,” he said. “Our HELP Fund will be extremely effective in pursuing that growth.”

Partner in development

The HELP Fund has a proven track record of financing successful ventures, and we continue to hear positive feedback from participating businesses and lenders.

“Often recipients will tell us that the HELP Fund was the final piece of the puzzle towards making a dream a reality,” said Crabtree. “It gives us great pride to see businesses flourishing and communities growing because of the help we were able to provide.”