By Christopher Jensen
BETHLEHEM – Kirsten Silfvenius of Colebrook liked Sen. Maggie Hassan’s idea: help the economy by providing a little fiscal relief for people who want a start a business, but are stymied by student loans.
Silfvenius is trying to get a marketing business going to help other entrepreneurs in the North Country.
And that’s not made any easier because she is still paying off a student loan (think the price of a car) after graduating from Smith College.
“This is 100 percent up my alley and exactly what I would be looking for,” she said Tuesday during a roundtable discussion at the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN) in Bethlehem.
The discussion centered on Hassan’s first bill: The Reigniting Opportunity for Innovators (ROI) Act of 2017.
Hassan, a Democrat and former governor, said it’s aimed at improving the economy by helping enthusiastic young entrepreneurs start businesses.
“The cost of getting a small business off the ground is really significant,” Hassan said. “And, so, when you have student debt on top of that it really increases the challenge.”
The bill would allow federal student loan payments (including interest) to be deferred for up to three years while launching a small business. It would be available to the founders of the business as well as full-time employees.
In an economically distressed area, the founder and employees would be eligible to have as much as $20,000 forgiven.
“There are a significant number of Northern New Hampshire communities that would qualify for this forgiveness,” Hassan said.
To be eligible, start-ups would have to be qualified by the federal government’s Small Business Development Centers.
“What this bill calls for is if you want to qualify for the student loan debt relief you have to go to the Small Business Development Center, you have to have a five-year plan and they have to certify that it is an achievable, likely-to-succeed plan,” Hassan said.
It’s sad to think of a generation of people not being able to start a business and that’s a clear problem for the economy, said Elizabeth Penney, WREN’S executive director.
The bill might encourage young people to stay – or attract newcomers – because it would allow them to create a job that they would enjoy, said Jessica Bunker of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce.
There is a federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but one requirement is working for a non-profit, said Colebrook’s Silfvenius.
“I’m seeing a need that doesn’t fit in those categories,” Silfvenius said.
The need she sees is helping businesses in the North Country prosper with better marketing.
There’s also, Silfvenius said, a bigger issue in the North Country that the bill would address: attracting and keeping young people “who want to have lives of meaning in communities that are important to them, this would take one more barrier out of the way.”
Hassan said despite the headlines about strife in Congress there are legislators willing to work together on issues of shared interest. And, she thinks this effort to help the economy is one of them.
InDepthNH.org is NH’s nonprofit news website published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. Veteran journalist Chris Jensen covers the North Country and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org(603-869-5451)