Council approves city-VyStar loan program for small businesses

The program will offer loans of up to $100,000 and initial city grants of $1,000.

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The Jacksonville City Council on April 6 unanimously approved a public-private partnership with VyStar Credit Union, creating a loan and grant program for small businesses facing declining revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Lenny Curry intends to sign the bill into law April 6, city Public Affairs Director Nikki Kimbleton said in a text message after the vote.

Council members approved the $26 million, six-year COVID-19 Small Business Relief Employee Retention Grant Program in a 19-0 vote in a meeting held via videoconference. 

Jacksonville-based VyStar will make a $50 million loan pool available in its COVID-19 Small Business Relief Loan Program.

Ordinance 2020-201 includes an initial $9 million from the city’s general fund balance to establish the grants. 

VyStar will administer the loan program and direct the application process. Businesses can apply for the program at 

VyStar Chief Lending Officer Jenny Vipperman said the credit union has several employees to handle what it expects to be several thousand applicants, and they will walk business owners through the process.

The city could work on more coronavirus-related relief programs. 

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said the VyStar partnership is the “first of several steps” the city will take to help the businesses community.

Hughes told Council member Joyce Morgan that the city will consider partnerships with other Jacksonville-area financial institutions as warranted, but he did not provide details.

Hughes said city officials have been coordinating with the federal government and were assured that businesses and nonprofits receiving U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans will not be constrained from applying for the city-VyStar program.

Businesses must be located in Duval County to qualify for the city-VyStar loan, as well as meet specific employee retention requirements.

Council adds worker tracking

Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson wants the city to track the number of Duval County residents employed by the loan applicants and if those workers were retained because of the program.

Hughes said the administration will adjust the employee verification form to include worker residency.

Council member Danny Becton said the greatest financial need is for nonessential businesses that have been required by the city and state to close because of social distancing.

He asked the Curry administration to consider expediting the loan requests of those businesses.

Hughes said requiring the city Office of Economic Development to establish different priorities based on applicants’ financial status and classification of essential or nonessential would create a barrier for VyStar to get the loan money out quickly.

“It might not seem daunting, but thousands of applications is what we are anticipating,” Hughes said.

The credit union modified one of its existing small business loan programs to enter into the partnership with the city. Vipperman told the Council that of about 100 small business loans it has issued to date related to COVID-19, nearly all were for the maximum $100,000. 

She said essential businesses still operating also could be at risk of closing without the immediate injection of capital.

“There are some that are open today who are calling and telling us that this loan could be the difference between staying open and making payroll for the employees throughout the entire pandemic versus having to close their doors,” she said. 

Program highlights

VyStar will offer qualifying small businesses a fixed 5.99% interest rate on loans up to $100,000, according to the program agreement attached to the bill.

Businesses can expect to be approved and receive the money in three to five days of approval, according to the summary.

A $250 loan underwriting fee will be waived, credited by VyStar for loans less than $5,000 and paid by the city for loans above $5,000.

The loan would act as a line of credit that business owners could draw on for six months as needed. 

A city grant will cover interest-only payments due on the loan in the first year. That’s in addition to a $1,000 grant given to each business awarded a loan. 

The city will budget $3 million for the initial $1,000 grants, making the award available to the first 3,000 loan recipients.

Business owners will begin principal and interest payments in the second year in an amount “sufficient to repay the loan in 60 months,” according to the city’s program summary. 

The city will provide grants to cover interest costs in years two through six of the loan for businesses that retain at least 50% of their workforce as of Feb. 29.

The city also will reimburse 10% of the principal annually after the first year of the loan. That will come as a grant to business owners who retain 100% of their pre-COVID-19 workforce. 

The city could reimburse up to 50% of the loan principal for businesses that keep all their employees.


To qualify for the city benefits, businesses will have to submit employment documentation on a form provided by the city.

To qualify, a business must be in Duval County and have:

• Completed one year of operation.

• Completed at least one tax return.

• Have between two and 100 employees.

• Have documented proof it was negatively affected by COVID-19.



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