BY DEANNA DERWAY
As 2015 drew to a close, we once again reflected upon the past year and optimistically look ahead to the opportunities and challenges that will shape the overall economy in the coming year.
The Washington County LDC has once again experienced a steady increase in loan requests as the health and optimism of small businesses strengthens. In 2015, 10 new loans totaling over $1 million dollars were added to our portfolio in a variety of sectors. The improving economy seems to have led to more spending, and increased investments in equipment that has in turn spurred production and produced healthy economic growth.
We believe that this optimistic trend will continue to grow into 2016 with this steady growth as a welcome sign that the economy continues to head in the right direction.
The New Year delivers new opportunity and trends are looking positive for the economic climate in our region. Some positive economic signals we have seen include employment growth, low unemployment rates, lower energy costs, and increased business investment. The economic uncertainty that persisted following the recession has subsided, with increasing consumer confidence and the willingness to purchase homes, spend more money, and in general take more risks. In fact, as predicted, the Federal Reserve found the confidence to raise interest rates a quarter-point for the first time in nearly a decade.
In Washington County, small businesses play a crucial role in our economy as they are the engine driving job growth and cash flow through the community’s economy. Successful local businesses allow owners to remain in place and generate opportunities for employees and other entrepreneurs. Over the past year one trend we have seen is businesses investing in the future by buying new equipment and real estate, hiring new employees, and increasing inventory, as well as refinancing debt to get lower payments and lower interest rates.
As stated in years past, Infrastructure is a foundation for economic growth and development. Strong, efficient water and sewer systems, transportation systems and communications networks are the key to future development. In mid-December 2015 the state REDC awarded three Washington County villages millions of dollars to upgrade and expand water and sewer projects.
Improving this infrastructure will pave the way for business expansions and start-ups in these areas. Even with this growing optimism, our economy and small business owners faces many challenges and uncertainties this year from finding the next customer to the cost of providing employee benefits. The year 2016 also provides uncertainty about who will prevail in the presidential election and what he or she might bring to the table after getting elected.
The primary service WCLDC offers is lending. Financing entrepreneurs, supporting company expansions, equipment purchases and real estate investments are just a few of the services available.
Another priority is partnerships; the WCLDC frequently works with financial institutions to assist businesses, as well as offer community development investment programs for developers. The WCLDC consistently collaborates and engages with strategic regional economic development agencies and statewide organizations to ensure resources, programs and funding streams to best serve existing businesses and start-ups are available.
Whether its equipment upgrades to existing machinery, adding production lines, buying or building a facility, working capital or job creation, the WCLDC has programs with funding options to encourage growth across all sectors throughout the county. Our priority is to attract, retain and expand business while balancing the “quality of life” Washington County is infamous for and in order to accomplish these goals, these relationships are imperative.
Washington County is buzzing with the exciting prospects for another busy year in 2016. Unique new businesses and the expansion of current companies are materializing routinely and the WCLDC is committed to supporting these businesses through their unique challenges and subsequent success as employers in our region.