Staunton launches new business-loan program
The City of Staunton in partnership with the Staunton Creative Community Fund announced today the award of a $200,000 state grant to support a new business loan program. As small and start-up businesses struggle to access loans in today’s economy, the program will fund start-up and expansion costs for entrepreneurs who have traditionally had limited access to financing, ranging from women and minorities, to artists and students, to low- and moderate-income residents.
The loan program, entitled SPARC PLUG, gains its acronym from the program’s mission statement: Support, Promote, and Revitalize Communities – Providing Loans to Underserved Groups. The grassroots effort will provide training, business planning, and funding directly to local entrepreneurs and business owners. These entrepreneurs, in turn, provide the “sparc” and the inspiration for greater community revitalization. Staunton City Councilman Ophie Kier, who is also a member of the project’s management team, stresses the importance of access to capital for underserved groups: “Not everyone fits into the same mold and has the same set of circumstances; yet, with the right combination of resources and training, someone’s great idea can turn into reality, regardless of a lot of other factors.”
George Bowers Grocery, an independent grocery store located in the New Town neighborhood in Staunton, is a thriving example that small loans can have a big community impact. Since opening its doors with help from a Staunton Creative Community Fund loan in 2008, George Bowers Grocery has become a local destination that has helped two other small businesses in the region remain viable through additional sales outlets. Their “urban garden” in New Town is proof that business growth comes in many forms, emphasizing green development, local production, and community pride. “We have been very fortunate to be able to work with the Staunton Creative Community Fund,” said Katie McCaskey, co-owner of George Bowers Grocery. “Probably more important than funding, SCCF has helped us network with other businesses that have similar needs and concerns and that is where the real learning happens,” she continued.
Representatives from the Staunton Creative Community Fund, George Bowers Grocery, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Network, local business partners, and the City of Staunton are all working together to create a grassroots outreach plan that reaches many of the independent businesses that are often overlooked by more traditional economic development tools.
“This program is dedicated to helping businesses that have been unable to receive funding through other sources,” says SCCF Executive Director Meghan Williamson. “We are excited to be combining our commitment to help underserved entrepreneurs with a vision for a stronger community.”
Under the terms of the grant program, the loan fund will emphasize lending activities to entrepreneurs who are creating new jobs or start-up businesses, as well as those who lack the financial resources to obtain more traditional bank loans.
The City of Staunton received the grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Community Development Block Grant program. The Staunton Creative Community Fund will administer the training, business planning classes, and loan fund associated with the SPARC PLUG program.