PRIMGHAR—Kiana Johnson is ready to put her newly acquired economic development finance training to use in assisting O’Brien County businesses.
The executive director of the O’Brien County Economic Development Corporation recently became certified as an Economic Development Finance Professional from the National Development Council.
The process involved completing the development council’s four, five-day training courses, which Johnson did over the course of about a year.
“They were intense,” she said. “They were all-day events with homework and then a final exam on the last day of each class.”
The training expanded Johnson’s knowledge of financing programs and how to assist clients in using them.
“There were a lot of different programs like new market tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds and other state funds, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Section 108 Loan Guarantee programs, which I haven’t dealt directly with,” Johnson said.
Her interest in receiving the certification stemmed from the growth of the county’s revolving loan fund, which has grown from about $50,000 to more than $2 million during Johnson’s 15-year tenure as OCEDC executive director.
“It’s a great fund, and working with my revolving loan fund committee, it was discussed that I had expressed interest that as this fund grows, I’d like to have some additional training and knowledge in that area,” Johnson said. “They thought that was a really good idea and I talked to my OCEDC board about it.”
Johnson completed the first two courses in June and October 2019 and the final two in February and May. Earlier this month, she was notified she had passed the final exam and was therefore a certified Economic Development Finance Professional.
“It’s a great honor,” Johnson said.
Johnson was able to pay for the courses using MidAmerican Energy Co.’s Local Partners Program, which provides financial assistance to economic developers in a variety of ways.
“MidAmerican Energy provided all the grants for the classes, which was a huge investment. I think they were about $1,400,” Johnson said.
Besides completing the finance training, Johnson has stayed busy assisting businesses in O’Brien County with navigating relief resources available in light of the coronavirus pandemic. That meant she also had to become familiar with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and how businesses can apply for assistance from it through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
She also reached out to businesses across the county to see how they were doing and ask if the development corporation could offer additional guidance.
“In relation to our revolving loan fund clients, for three months we offered them the option to suspend their revolving loan fund payments to us,” Johnson said. “We really wanted to help them with their cash flow and make sure they could pay their other bills during this time.”
Her office has also been involved in promoting the online marketplace, Northwest Iowa Shop Where I Live, which launched in the spring and features several N’West Iowa businesses. The development corporation also started a feature on its own website which spotlights two businesses each week as another way to promote them.
“Anything we can do for our businesses really,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to be creative and help them. Our services are free, we’re confidential and we just really are focusing on growing business in O’Brien County.”