The Haliburton County Development Corporation (HCDC) continued to invest money in the Highlands throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, distributing more than $5.7 million in different loans to area businesses from April 2020 to March 2021.

During the organization’s annual general meeting, held at Haliburton Highlands Brewing Oct. 6, it was noted that HCDC enjoyed another “stellar” year, despite all the complications brought on by the pandemic.

“We were deemed essential right from the get go – we pivoted our operations, and then got to work on helping businesses from across our community,” said Patti Tallman, HCDC executive director.

The organization moved quickly to establish a COVID-19 loan program, which was structured to help businesses and nonprofits in Haliburton County that had been adversely impacted by the pandemic. The program offered loans of up to $25,000, to be paid back at zero per cent interest over a two or three year period. Sarah Joanu, HCDC loans officer, said 18 loans had been approved by March 2021, totalling $908,500.

During the lockdown, HCDC also deferred more than $570,000 in principal and interest payments for clients. Joanu noted that $213,000 of that amount was eventually forgiven.

“HCDC was very fortunate to be in such a strong financial position to be able to do this for our clients. Most other organizations and banks deferred payments, but kept the interest still accruing,” Joanu said.

Shortly after HCDC launched its COVID loan fund, the federal government unveiled the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. Joanu said HCDC received just over $1.7 million through that program, which was split among 48 qualifying businesses and non-profits in the Highlands.

In discussing HCDC’s complete year-end financials, Joanu noted the organization presently had 162 outstanding loans in the community totalling just over $14 million, approximately $4.9 million cash in the bank and an investment portfolio of $20.6 million.

Since incorporation in 1986, Joanu revealed HCDC had approved 2,203 loans across the community totalling almost $94 million.

While the organization’s primary job is providing financial assistance to businesses, program and operations coordinator, Heather Reid, program and operations coordinator, said HCDC also offers advice and mentorship to new ventures through its business incubator.

Established in 2010 in partnership with Dysart et al, the incubator was designed to support creative businesses in the Highlands and offer them an affordable office space, with access to high-speed internet, in the downtown core.

Over the years, it has evolved to become more of a mentorship program, spearheaded by Jim Blake.

The incubator currently serves as a home for two businesses – Haliburton Guitar Studio and Highlands Technical.

According to Reid, businesses that have at one time or another been a part of the HCDC incubator program are now providing more than 20 full-time jobs in Haliburton County.

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