CANANDAIGUA — Ontario County’s economic developer sees a new, low-interest loan fund as a way for the county — and particularly Geneva — to play a major role in the state’s craft food and beverage boom.

“Geneva is so well positioned to be one of the hubs of the food renovation in upstate New York, if not the central hub,” Mike Manikowski said. “The city and county are focused on agricultural businesses.”

That focus will be sharper now that the Ontario County Economic Development Corp., in conjunction with Empire State Development, has unveiled the Grow the Agriculture Industry Now (GAIN) fund to assist farmers and ag-related industries. Gov. Cuomo recently announced that $3.3 million is going to the Finger Lakes region, with about $340,000 to Ontario County.

The GAIN program provides low-interest loans to capitalize on local ag businesses using new technology and expanding operations. State officials said it fills a gap for new businesses that don’t meet traditional financing underwriting standards.

Manikowski said the fund can also be used by existing businesses to expand or diversify. For example, he said Cheribundi — a producer of tart cherry juices at the Technology Farm off Pre-Emption Road — is expected to apply for a loan to move into the former Tops supermarket off Route 14A, which could triple its workforce.

The first advance of $1.2 million in GAIN funding has been released to the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, which represents the nine-county region in coordination with local development corporations.

“G/FLRPC is proud to introduce and lead this program in the Finger Lakes region,” council Chairman Jack Marren, also chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, said in a press release. “Encouraging agriculture and agri-business is one of the G/FLRPC’s economic goals for the district and GAIN will help us with that goal by providing loans that support the capital needs of agriculture and food processing companies.”

The total investment fund will provide loans to qualifying businesses in Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties, all of which are in the top 10 agricultural counties in the state. The fund is expected to create 150 direct jobs and 450 indirect jobs in the agriculture and food processing industry.

GAIN will give priority to agricultural and related business projects, including food processing and operating farms that support job creation and job retention, as well as farm diversification (i.e., participate in farm-based retail and wholesale markets). The program will also support businesses that invest in new technology, including renewable energy projects and new processing equipment, as well as ones that demonstrate growth in net revenue for ag enterprises; leverage other sources of funding; and provide secondary economic multipliers such as business expansions.

Loans can be up to $200,000 at an interest rate of one percent.

The Ontario County Economic Development Corp. is accepting applications at this time. Those interested can contact Sue Vary, the county’s economic development specialist, at (585) 396-4866.

Manikowski said the county hopes to get GAIN funding on an annual basis, and his office is looking to make low-interest loans to producers, processors and ag-based industries — both large and small. Large dairy farm owners who want to modernize equipment or upgrade their information technology can also apply.

He added that businesses at the Tech Farm, including Empire Cider Company, and ones interested in locating at the incubator will benefit from the loans.

“I see a lot of potential here,” he said. “There is going to be a huge market for ag businesses here or ones that want to come to this county.”

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