SNOW HILL — Worcester County businesses are taking advantage of Video Lottery Terminal (VOLT) funding or using the program as a gateway into other options, according to a report by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
John Hickman, director of SBDC at Salisbury University, briefed the county Local Development Council (LDC) this week on the success of VOLT, a loan program where the funding comes from casino revenue, 1.5-percent of yearly proceeds. The loans are available throughout Worcester but 50 percent must go to businesses located within 10 miles of one of Maryland’s casinos. In Worcester, that’s the Casino at Ocean Downs.
VOLT is popular, Hickman told the LDC. The loan amount is custom for every business but can be as small as a few thousand dollars or as large as several hundred thousand dollars. Worcester has already seen three VOLT loans, with the most recent being a $75,000 loan to Blue Flame in October.
The best part about VOLT, according to Hickman, is that it’s bringing business owners to SBDC where there’s a host of free services available. Hickman reported that 58 businesses were recently assisted by SBDC, 20 of which were owned by women, 10 owned by minorities and 5 by veterans.
“I looked at businesses that we worked with in Worcester County since the video terminal VOLT fund was launched,” said Hickman, indicating that fell between April and December of 2013.
SBDC offered free assistance to those businesses in areas like marketing, management and financial planning.
“We spent a little over 580 hours working with those businesses,” said Hickman. “The majority of the time spent with marketing and sales … We see an awful lot of businesses come in sometimes looking for financing and their challenge maybe is a sales issue.”
The county sang SBDC’s praises during the meeting, with Merry Mears, assistant director of Economic Development, calling the group “top-notch.”
“I would just like to say how appreciative our office is to SBDC. That’s a top-notch operation there,” she told the LDC. “They have tremendous resources there. They have people who have owned their own businesses, who have walked the walk and talked the talk, who are great resources for folks that need the help, the consultation on establishing and growing their own business.”
Michael Day, director of Economic and Community Development in Berlin, also has a high opinion of SBDC. Representatives from the agency set up shop in Berlin every week, and Day has observed a lot of traffic including many regulars.
“A lot of them are repeat. Once they start a process, they keep coming back every week or every other week,” he said.
With as much potential as VOLT has, Delegate Mike McDermott asked if it will soon be tapped dry.
“Does the money that goes out, when it comes back as the loan money, does it go back into the same fund and this is it re-directed?” he asked. “Is it like a self-sustaining fund that they’re setting up?”
Mears told McDermott that VOLT is self-sustaining. It is managed jointly for the area by Worcester and the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation and will be replenished regularly at least for as long as it’s offered by the state.
“We haven’t gotten to the point yet where we’re seeing a lot of money come back in because it’s the first year,” said Mears. “But, yes, it will be a fund that will continue to operate.”