SAFFORD — Assistant City Manager John Cassella took a turn addressing Safford City Council members from the podium Monday evening in a presentation that was all about encouraging development of more local businesses.

Safford Mayor Jason Kouts first brought up the subject in a July 22 council work session, asking city staff to consider ways to incentivize local business development.

During last Monday’s council meeting, speaking for staff, Cassella outlined a dual track approach geared toward attracting, retaining and expanding current and potential Safford businesses, increasing the number and diversity of jobs, and offering stable employment with livable wages.

The first track would use $100,000 from the city’s economic development fund to assist small businesses. Possible options included: identifying incentives that could support an entertainment district, if the council moved ahead on that proposal; expanding the Downtown Facade Grant Program to businesses throughout the city; relaxing zoning code elements such as parking and signs; waiving first-year business license fees for startups; waiving building permit fees; and assisting with utility deposits, hookup fees and infrastructure development.

Track two would provide $100,000 in added funding to businesses through the Graham County Micro-Loan Program, a revolving loan fund. The program, which counts Freeport-McMoRan, Local First Arizona and Community Investment Corporation as participants, provides loans up to $25,000 to successful applicants.

The application review committee emphasizes existing businesses seeking to grow, capital over operating expenditures, businesses struggling to meet demand for their services and businesses that fill unmet or underserved needs in a community.

Cassella said several loans were currently active, adding that, according to Local First Arizona, none of the borrowers had missed a payment. Following his presentation, the council voted to direct staff to proceed with their outlined approach.

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