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Both state and local officials say they are anxious to see the results of a new cooperative agreement between one of the state's largest lending institutions and the city's downtown businesses.

During a breakfast press conference in the city offices last week, Valley Bank officials announced that they, in a cooperative agreement with Spanish Fork and the Spanish Fork Area Chamber of Commerce, will offer low-rate loans to credit-qualified businesses in the city's downtown business district.The program will give business owners and landlords the opportunity to borrow up to $10,000 at the current prime rate for 36 months on an unsecured loan. Terms of the loan stipulate that the money must be used for upgrades, modernization and renovation of the Spanish Fork business district.

Corri Coriveau, chief executive vice president for Valley Bank, said the program - for which Spanish Fork is a pilot - is being instituted to "develop and improve the cities where we live and work."

According to Coriveau, Valley Bank officials chose Spanish Fork because of its commitment to beautification - including a recent downtown renovation program - "and we knew that Spanish Fork would take this program seriously."

In addition to the loan program, Valley Bank has arranged for Assist, a community design center, to aid businesses with exterior renovations and for representatives from Weinstock's to consult businesses on retail displays.

Chamber representative Jack Lundell said the program will encourage businesses to use the loans in a 40-60 split - with 40 percent being used for exterior beautification and 60 percent for interior improvements.

Those improvements could make the downtown area more attractive to patrons and therefore "draw local residents as well as residents of smaller nearby communities who normally go to Provo or Orem for their business and shopping needs," said Dennis Dunn, manager for the Spanish Fork Valley Bank office.

Rep. Bill Orton said the program offers Spanish Fork businesses a great opportunity to keep area youths in Utah County.

"We can share the opportunities that have been ours in rural Utah with our children if we can keep them here and offer them jobs that will allow them to live a lifestyle much like ours," Orton said.

Beautification efforts can sometimes lead communities to take pride in themselves, Orton said. "I just hope that other towns and cities can catch this vision."

Also, Orton said he hoped city and chamber officials would invite him back to see the results of the program.

Mayor Marie Huff, who herself has been in business for 45 years, said the city and businesses should welcome the loan program and similar efforts.

"From that experience, I can tell you we need all the help we can get," Huff said. "I just hope the merchants are as excited as we are. This is a real opportunity for us: to be an example to other communities who aren't doing as well and are suffering from economic hardships. We need to take the lead."