WATERTOWN, S.D. – The Watertown Development Company (WDC) has created a new loan program designed to support businesses facing economic hardship.

The WDC Disaster Relief Fund is a zero-interest loan program for small to mid-size companies and entrepreneurs.

WDC Executive Director, Chris Schilken, said, “The outbreak of the virus has sent us into unknown territory, and the economic impacts are already being felt. The new relief fund announced today is a critical step that will provide immediate help to businesses to mitigate the economic impact of this unprecedented challenge, help area workers and businesses to weather the storm, and come out stronger when things return to normal.”

The initiative is meant to complement other recently announced federal economic recovery initiatives that are still in the works.

At last count, the money provided as grants to support the program had come from five area public and private entities; the City of Watertown, Watertown Municipal Utilities, Reliabank, First Premier Bank, and Dacotah Bank. The amount collected totaled $355,000 dollars, with the opportunity to grow more if additional philanthropic, state and federal resources became available.

Unexpectedly, a more recent donation to the fund came in from philanthropist Denny Sanford in the amount of $200,000 dollars, bringing the total of disaster relief funds to $555,000 dollars.

Schilken said, “We are grateful for the generous gift from Denny Sanford. His concern for those in need has been evident throughout the years, and now he is stepping up once again in this time of crisis. In addition to this being a remarkable financial gift, it is also empowering, the spirit, that makes this state one of the best places to be, especially in challenging times. We are deeply grateful.”

The WDC started making the requests for donations before businesses started to close around the city. The City of Watertown was one of the first to commit to funding the program.

Watertown Mayor Sarah Caron said, “Last week, the City Council unanimously supported the $150,000 contribution to the WDC Disaster Relief Fund. The money will not come from limited sales tax revenues which are expected to take a hit, but instead will come from our steadier solid waste and sanitary sewer enterprise funds. The amount represents about 2% of the anticipated revenue from those funds. I am very proud of the outpouring of support we are seeing from the council and the entire community to get us through this unprecedented event.”

Watertown Municipal Utilities General Manager, Steve Lehner, said the Watertown Municipal Utilities Board met in executive session on Monday to discuss the request from the WDC to help fund the disaster program. The decision was met with positive feedback and approval from board members.

“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that there is no time to wait. The scale of this new challenge requires immediate action to support workers and businesses who our utility customers that are suffering an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19. The board felt that providing funding for immediate relief is a critical short-term fix created to aid the most vulnerable businesses in our community until additional funding becomes available,” said Lehner.

The Disaster Relief Program eligibility requirements and loan application are available at www.watertownworks.com/relief.