SWFL small businesses scramble to get funding after state bridge loan runs dry

Business owners are scrambling to get their hands on funding and the state’s bridge loan is one of the wells that’s run dry.

Fort Myers Brewing Company is quiet. Usually, they’re selling to crowds in their taproom and supplying kegs to around 700 businesses.

“Each tap line means at least one keg a month,” said owner Jennifer Whyte. She estimates their business is operating at 25% of what it was last year.

“It’s just constant. constant applications, constant thinking about how we’re gonna pivot to continue, bring in some income, constant what can we do to help the community,” she said.

Whyte applied herself for the state’s business bridge loan. It’s meant to help small businesses “bridge” the gap between impact and when they can secure larger loans.

“I’m thankful that we acted quickly,” she said, and they’re one of the lucky ones.

More than 38,000 people applied and less than 3% got money. The loan is typically up to $50,000 or, in special cases, $100,000.

$100,000 doesn’t cover a month’s worth of bills; not even close,” Whyte said.

Public records show some people who applied got multiple loans from the program valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, the program ran out of money.

“This is not what I thought was going to happen,” said Senator Linda Stewart of Orange County.

She says the state needs to add more restrictions so more small businesses could get the help they needed.

“It’s caused so much grief and so much concern for people who are trying to at least get a little bit of payout so they can help,” she said.

More loans that find their way back into the hands of small businesses, like Fort Myers Brewery, means more time they can keep our neighbors employed.

The bridge loan is interest-free and for businesses with between two and 100 employees.

The state says more than 1,000 businesses were awarded more than $49 million.

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