As one former small businessman to many current small-business owners, Bill Bishilany said he can feel their pain.

As one former small businessman to many current small-business owners, Bill Bishilany said he can feel their pain.

Appearing at last week's business networking luncheon of the Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce, the onetime councilman and service director for the city of Seven Hills and now a deputy state treasurer said the current economic climate is probably the most difficult those in his audience have faced.

The treasurer's office can help, he told them.

Bishilany, who is also director of economic development for Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, said Ohio has more programs designed to help small-business owners, farmers and individuals than most other states.

"They do have some significant benefits," he added.

Bishilany concentrated most of his presentation on "GrowNOW," a low-cost financing program for small businesses that create or retain jobs.

"I am proud to sponsor GrowNOW, which provides small businesses with lower interest rates on their loans," Mandel is quoted as saying on a pamphlet about the program, which was created in 1983.

Under GrowNOW, qualifying business owners can, after obtaining a loan from a financial institution, have the interest rate on that loan reduced by up to 3 percent, according to Bishilany. The buy-down of interest rates, done through a certificate of deposit or other money market account supplied by the treasurer's office, lasts for two years with a possible renewal of another two years, he said.

"No one wants to take out another loan," Bishilany hastened to admit.

However, he said, GrowNOW can be used to trim the interest rate on existing loans under a consolidation.

"It could make the difference of getting over the hump of the economy," Bishilany said. "It's geared to keep the money and jobs in Ohio."

In order to be eligible for GrowNOW assistance, businesses must:

• Save or create one full-time or two part-time jobs in the state for every $50,000 borrowed.

• Have headquarters in Ohio.

• Employ fewer than 150 people.

• Have most of their employees in the state.

• Be organized as a for-profit enterprise.

• Maintain offices and operating facilities in Ohio.

GrowNOW has invested $250 million in 1,224 businesses in 83 of the state's 88 counties, according to Bishilany. In the six-county central Ohio region, he added, the investment is $7 million.

The process for participation starts with securing a loan, followed by completion of an online or paper application, according to the pamphlet.

More information is available at www.grownow.ohio.gov.