Buzzworm news briefs

Deadlines set for business flood-damage loans

Area businesses that suffered economic loss in the hurricane-related September floods have until June 30 to file for an economic injury federal loan, and until July 30 to apply for a state loan, according to the Small Business and Technology Development Center of Western Carolina University’s College of Business.

The state loan program has made available $10 million in low-interest loans to eligible businesses for losses not covered by insurance or federal disaster relief, according to Wendy Cagle, regional director for the SBTDC. It was funded by the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005 as part of an economic-recovery program set up by Gov. Mike Easley.

Approximately $2.7 million in assistance to the WNC region has been approved since the program’s initiation March 28, providing funds so far to 53 area businesses, 26 of which are located in Buncombe County. Other counties serviced through the regional program are Haywood, Henderson, Jackson and McDowell.

“The vast majority are for some combination of physical damage and economic injury,” according to Adrianne Gordon, assistant counselor at the Asheville office, which is the contact center for people needing information about federal or state loans, or wishing to schedule an appointment to apply for state loan assistance. Applicants may then be seen at the Asheville or Cullowhee office for loan counseling, but all appointments must be set up through the Asheville office.

Gordon stresses the fact that there are two separate loan programs, with subtle differences. The federal loan program available until June 30 is strictly for economic injury; the opportunity for federal assistance for physical damages expired last December. Handled through the U.S. Small Business Administration, the federal loans require collateral and have a 30-year payback term.

The state loan program managed through the SBTDC is designed to assist business owners with losses that were not covered by insurance or federal disaster relief, including physical damage, economic injury and debt consolidation related to the September floods. Average loans so far have totaled $53,000. Applications are also accepted from businesses that did not apply for or were denied federal assistance (including those who began the process of a federal loan but elected not to complete it), or those who found the SBA loan was not adequate to meet their needs.

“All loans are paid back over five years at 3 percent interest,” Gordon says of the state loan program. “Overall, it is an 8-year program with no payments or interest for the first three years.”

The state fund can also be used to rebate a portion of the interest borrowers will pay on SBA disaster loans. Rebates given out so far total $220,000.

The SBTDC, an inter-institutional program of the University of North Carolina, acts as the state’s primary business assistance program. It is partnering with the state Department of Commerce in managing the hurricane recovery program.

For more information about the state or federal loan programs, call 251-6025. Further information about the state loan program is available on the Web at www.sbtdc.org/disaster.

— Nelda Holder

More places to fly to — and more people flying

Starting in June, travelers can fly directly to three new destinations from the Asheville Regional Airport.

Delta Airlines has announced it will introduce daily nonstop service between Asheville and Orlando, Fla. (The Sunshine State is the second-largest commercial air-service market for Asheville.) Additionally, US Airways has announced it will begin nonstop, round-trip weekend service to both Philadelphia (on Saturday and Sunday) and Washington, D.C. (on Saturday only).

These new destinations join a list of existing nonstop flights to Charlotte, Atlanta, Newark, Houston, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Detroit.

Along with a greater number of destinations, the Asheville Regional Airport also reports that more people are flying in and out of the facility. The airport’s traffic report for March recorded a total of 48,787 passenger arrivals and departures — up 49 percent from the March 2004 total (32,737).

“Forty-nine percent increase is huge!” declares Susan Phillips, the airport’s director of marketing and public affairs. “Those are the type of numbers that we’re excited about, because what it means is anywhere from [8,000] to 12,000 additional passengers are coming through each month. That means a lot of business for our airline folks, but it also means a lot of business opportunities for the community.”

Phillips credits this increase to a number of factors, including the marketing the airport has done both locally and farther afield — via radio, television, the Internet and print media — to inform people about the airport and available flights.

“We’re also seeing more of an outreach by the local community, especially by our tourism folks, to really focus on getting people to fly here, instead of driving … and take advantage of what we have in Western North Carolina,” she adds.

Another impetus for the increase in traffic, says Phillips, is that the airport has worked hard to get more airlines and flight options to Asheville. “Any time you can … add additional airlines and new destinations, that’s going to give people additional opportunities to travel — especially folks that are just wanting to take nonstop flights,” she notes.

On top of that, Phillips says the airport has also worked with the airlines to reduce their fares for flights out of Asheville, making them more competitive with flights from Greenville and Charlotte — cities that travelers have historically been willing to drive to in order to save money.

And then there’s the 9/11 factor. “Post 9/11, all airports were struggling, trying to get their passenger numbers back up,” she observes. “I think part of what you’re seeing is just much more of a confidence level by the customers who are saying it’s safe to travel [and] they want to travel.”

For more information about flights to and from the Asheville Regional Airport, visit its Web site (www.flyavl.com).

— Lisa Watters

Clean-air activists stop rule relaxation — for now

Letters of objection some 80 citizens sent to Raleigh have put on hold a change in state rules that would weaken clean-up requirements for grandfathered power plants. The N.C. Division of Air Quality sought the change to align state standards with new federal rules that would allow many of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired utilities to avoid installing pollution-control devices when they renovate or expand, a measure mandated by the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provision for Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD). (See “Blowin’ in the Wind,” March 9 Xpress.)

Over the last few months, as the DAQ’s proposed rule wound its way through various rule-making commissions on the track toward becoming law, the Canary Coalition launched a letter-writing campaign to stop it. The Sylva-based clean-air advocacy group took advantage of a little-known law that requires a new regulation to be submitted for legislative review if the state’s Rules Review Commission receives at least 10 formal letters of objection.

Now, the rule change must wait for a year, until the General Assembly’s 2006 session. If a legislator then introduces a bill disapproving the new rule and the bill passes, the change will be canceled — and the state’s current stricter PSD standards will remain in place.

“We will find sponsors for a bill of disapproval,” vowed Canary Coalition Director Avram Friedman in a press release. “And we’ll fight hard to get it passed.”

— Steve Rasmussen

Flowers for veterans

A ceremony marking Memorial Day in Asheville and Buncombe County will come complete with a band, speakers, flags and the playing of “Taps.”

The event will take place at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 30, in downtown Asheville’s City/County Plaza. The program will focus on veterans of all military services and wars, including personal memories of family and friends.

Members of the public are invited to bring a flower in memory of a veteran to add to the wreath on display or to the Missing In Action Memorial.

Glen Matayabas, a veteran of the current Iraq war (and the administrator of the Buncombe County Detention Center), will speak at the event. Bob Caldwell of WLOS-TV will serve as master of ceremonies. The Asheville Christian Academy band and chorus will perform, along with Col. Ernest Miller of the Salvation Army.

The Enka High School ROTC, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey, Asheville Mayor Charles Worley and Veterans Administration Chaplain Melba Banks will also take part in the ceremony.

For more information, call Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Services at 298-6118 (e-mail: parksalive@buncombecounty.org).

— Tracy Rose

Closed for Memorial Day

While holidays are nice, they can also be a little perplexing. What’s open? What’s closed? And should you go ahead and put your trash and recyclables out like you usually do on Mondays? To make things a little more clear-cut, here’s a roundup of holiday closings:

• Asheville city offices — closed
• Asheville city pools — closed
• Asheville city recreation centers — open, but may have special holiday hours, so call ahead
• Banks — closed
• Buncombe County Golf Course — open
• Buncombe County offices — closed
• Buncombe County pools — open
• Food Lion Skatepark — open
• Lake Julian — open
• The North Carolina Arboretum — open
• Post offices — closed
• Trash and recycling pickups — as scheduled
• WNC Nature Center — open.

— Lisa Watters

Local history comes alive

For locals with an interest in Asheville-area history, the Memorial Day holiday will offer much more than just a three-day weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, the Western North Carolina Historical Association will stage its first (and hopefully first annual) Heritage Alive Festival.

For the past 17 years, the WNCHA, which is based at the Smith-McDowell House Museum on the campus of A-B Tech, has conducted in-depth history presentations for area grade-schoolers. Now, they’re sharing their wealth of historical contacts and knowledge with the entire community.

The free festival will open a window into diverse parts of Asheville’s past. Re-enactors will set up military encampments from the eras of the French and Indian War and the Civil War, and re-dedicate the Buncombe County Civil War Memorial, which pays tribute to the 551 Buncombe residents who lost their lives in that conflict. “Living history” tours of the Smith-McDowell House will offer a realistic look back at life in the 1800s, and a host of area craftspeople will be on hand to share skills honed long ago.

For the younger set, especially, there will be a puppet show featuring mountain heritage stories, as well as a decidedly modern teaching tool: the “Wired World on Wheels,” a mobile unit sponsored by Charter Communications that uses computer programs to draw children into learning and appreciating history. Rounding out the event will be live entertainment from traditional musicians.

The idea, says WNCHA President Stephen Jones, is to transport festivalgoers back in time. “Everything we do there is going to relate to something historical — except maybe the cotton candy one vender might be selling.”

On Memorial Day itself, the WNCHA, in conjunction with other local groups, will turn attention to a little-known but fascinating part of Asheville’s history. From the 1840s to the 1940s, thousands of African-Americans — including many slaves and former slaves — were buried in the South Asheville Cemetery, a 2-acre, thinly wooded hillside in Kenilworth next to the St. John “A” Baptist Church. For roughly a century, the cemetery was the predominant resting place for Asheville’s black community (see “If Stones Could Talk,” in the Sept. 23, 1998, Xpress).

The cemetery fell into some neglect after it closed in 1943, but in recent years, community groups have pitched in to refurbish the site and restore its place in local history. At noon on Monday, May 30, Rev. William Whitfield of St. John “A” will re-consecrate the cemetery as part of a ceremony co-organized by his church, the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, the South Asheville Cemetery Association, the YMI Cultural Center and the WNCHA.

The program at the cemetery will include a short presentation on the history of this hallowed ground, as well as tributes in song and verse to those who rest there.

“It’s important for us living in 2005 to remember all of the people — not just the elites — who helped to build the community we live in and enjoy,” Jones says. “If we’re going to be true to history, we have to dignify the lives of those people by making sure their resting place is properly cared for and appreciated.”

For event schedules and parking information, visit www.wnchistory.org or call 253-9231.

— Jon Elliston

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