Federal, local incentives boost competitiveness with little upfront cost to owners

In tough economic times, no business expense is above examination. Business owners throughout Davidson County are looking for ways to cut even the smallest unnecessary expense in order to stay lean, competitive and strong.

Unfortunately, many long-term cost-trimming measures that are smart for business come with some level of upfront expense that the business owner must fully absorb, which is often difficult given the economy.

There is one expense, however, that is often overlooked and has fixes that are subsidized: energy. This is an easy ticket for Davidson County businesses to become more competitive in a global economy.

There have never been more reasons for business owners to take control of their energy costs or more ways for them to do it. From federal tax breaks down to local power company incentives, business owners can receive help from a number of sources to cover the costs of projects that reduce operating expenses immediately and continue to provide benefits — to the company, employees and community — for the long term.

In short, business owners don’t have to make this investment by themselves.

Many energy efficiency incentives can be used in conjunction with others, so doing your homework is key. Owners should begin with a professional energy assessment to see the most inefficient areas of their business and discover opportunities for improvement. These assessments also approximate the amount of money each specific improvement will save, helping them identify which will make the biggest improvements to the bottom line.

Because multiple assistance programs may be applied, owners should be sure to take into account all available assistance when projecting the return on investment for each project. This will make a dramatic difference in the savings that a given project will generate. To find those deductions, owners can start with DSIREUSA.org, which was created by the U.S. Department of Energy and provides assistance in several ways.

First, DSIREUSA.org provides consolidated information and requirements of every energy incentive in the state, from local power company rate reductions up to statewide, low-interest loan options.

DSIREUSA.org also provides information on federal incentives, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Some incentives are region-specific, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy for America Program Grants, which are available to rural businesses only. Other federal incentives reward businesses not for a specific project but when significant energy savings are made.

With winter setting in, gas and electricity bills are ticking upward, and base energy costs will continue to rise over the years. Beginning to search for solutions, assistance and appropriate loans now could make next winter the best yet for community businesses.

Clint Gwin is president of Pathway Lending, a nonprofit lender that provides low-interest loans to help Tennessee business grow, including the Energy Efficiency Loan Program, which can be repaid entirely through the savings generated by an energy efficiency project. www.pathwaylending.org.