$1M to boost local businesses

Stefano Coppola, owner of the Morse Block Deli & Taps in Barre, was able to buy the deli with a loan from Community Capital of Vermont. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF PHOTO

BARRE — Local businesses and future startups have improved prospects for accessing loans with a $1 million award to Community Capital of Vermont. The money comes from the Vermont Small Business Administration and will be used to fund CCV’s Microloan Program, which helps startups and small businesses that do not qualify for traditional bank financing. Barre-based Community Capital was created in 1995 as the gap lender to help fledgling entrepreneurs and small business owners who had poor or limited credit histories, high credit card balances, bankruptcies or outstanding medical bills that impeded eligibility for traditional bank loans. Fund managers also aimed to expand the diversity of borrowers. “We’re a mission-based lender,” said CCV Executive Director Carol Lighthall. “When we look at our numbers, we think of people and we think of their stories.” Lighthall said CCV’s 2015 report — currently being updated for 2016 — showed that 85 percent of the lender portfolio was made up of startups and low- to moderate-income, minority and woman-owned business borrowers. “So, the work that we do is exciting. It’s very inclusive,” Lighthall said. “We’re far less about the loans we make than the relationships we establish and the supports that are given through technical assistance.” Data from CCV show it invested nearly $9 million in almost 400 small businesses in Vermont since 1995. Over the program’s history, the average loan has been about $20,000, although loans can range from $1,000 to $100,000. In the past 18 months alone, CCV invested nearly $3 million, helping to create or save 215 jobs. Microloans can be used to provide working capital, inventory, furnishings and equipment. In addition to the $1 million SBA award, CCV also received a $239,000 technical assistance grant from SBA to help borrowers boost their business performance through the use of accounting tools such as Quick- Books, hiring a consultant to market a product or bring in a business advisor to assist in planning and development. Several local businesses to benefit from the CCV Microloan Program in recent years include Khaos Jewelry, Bailey Road and Morse Block Deli. Khaos Designs’ jewelry artist Dave Kaczynski has produced hand-wrought pieces — made of recycled nickel-free Argentium sterling silver and conflict-free semi-precious stones — in home studios in Worcester and Montpelier for the past five years. He sells at farmer’s markets in Montpelier and Stowe, area jewelry stores such as Artisans Hand in Montpelier, and online. Kaczynski began his business in 2012 with a $20,000 microloan from CCV. About a year ago, CCV renegotiated the loan to include some federal funding to help him build a website for the business. In about two weeks, he plans to move his home studio operation to Hardwick and continue to build business through his website, www.khaosdesigns.com. “Renegotiating the loan was something CCV was able to do in-house to gain access to federal money,” Kaczynski said. Sarah DeFelice, the owner of the Bailey Road women’s clothing store on Main Street in Montpelier, received a CCV microloan in 2014. She also served as a CCV board member in 2016. “I wouldn’t be in business without them,” DeFelice said. “It helped me buy inventory and it helped me make the improvements to the space that were needed.” DeFelice said the microloan was very helpful starting out as a young entrepreneur without much collateral. She said CCV staff were able to “see beyond that” when looking at her overall business plan. “I was 26 when I started this business, so it wasn’t like I had bad credit. I just didn’t have credit. I didn’t own a house. The only thing I had was a Ford Focus,” she recalled. Another Barre business, Morse Block Deli, also got its start in 2016 with a $32,000 CCV loan. Owner Stefano Coppola, a New England Culinary Institute graduate, said his dream was to bring “high-quality food to Barre without a high price tag” in pleasant surroundings, and relying on locally sourced ingredients that supported the local economy. “I would not have been able to do this without that loan,” said Copolla. “I didn’t have any money to open a business. I didn’t have anyone to fund this project or any investors. It was either get a loan or give up my dream, but I was able to make it happen with the help of Community Capital.” The Small Business Administration started the microloan program in 1992. “The smallest of small businesses can sometimes have a difficult time getting capital, even for the average microloan,” said Darcy Carter, SBA Vermont district office director. “This is where the microloan program comes in. Community Capital of Vermont serves as that gap lender that can provide capital to those entrepreneurs who want to start or grow their business, but may not have a proven track record yet.” Lighthall added, “ In general, our borrowers are very resourceful, and every day, we’re reminded of what humans can accomplish.” For more information about Community Capital of Vermont or the Microloan Program, call 802-479- 0167 or visit www.communitycapitalvt.org. stephen.mills@timesargus.com

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