By Alex Bridges
A regional nonprofit group recently expanded its reach from low-income housing to the business world.
People Inc. began a program in the Northern Shenandoah Valley in June for small, existing or start-up businesses that cannot secure financial assistance through a traditional lender. The agency is now seeking applications from interested businesses and prospective entrepreneurs in the counties of Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren.
Stephanie Lillard serves as business development manager for People Inc. and is working to spread the word about the program in the agency's coverage area.
People Inc. received a grant for $240,000 from the state Department of Housing and Community Development to cover Clarke and Warren counties, Lillard said.
The organization recently helped Laureen Unger turn her baking hobby into a full-fledged business in Edinburg. Laureen's Bakery now occupies storefront property on Main Street in town.
"By giving her the money to start her business and expand, it enabled her to create jobs," Lillard said. "Now she's got a much larger business and it's creating jobs that are, again, low- to moderate-income type jobs because of the nature of her business."
People Inc. recently pitched the program to Warren County officials. County Administrator Douglas Stanley explained that the grant money awarded to People Inc. passes through the county as the fiscal agent for the agency.
"We're trying to get the word out that if somebody's out there trying to start up a business that we don't know about, maybe is not aware of the ability to get funding," Stanley said. "The money is there to be lent."
The initiative also can complement a loan program already in place through the Economic Development Authority.
The program targets the individual who wants to start a small business or an established entrepreneur having a hard time securing the funds to strengthen his or her enterprise, Lillard explained.
Typically, the clients are considered low- to moderate income, Lillard said. People Inc. uses guidelines set each year by the state. An entrepreneur considered low- to moderate-income may qualify. The business also could qualify if 51 percent of the jobs created by a loan from People Inc. fall under the low- to moderate income, Lillard explained.
Median income for individuals in Warren County is $76,900, according to the latest figures provided by the state. People Inc. uses 80 percent of the state median income as the ceiling for its programs, Lillard explained. Individuals in Warren County earning up to $43,050 are considered in the 80 percent bracket and would qualify for the business loan. A family of four in Warren County could qualify under the program if the household income did not exceed $61,500.
"Many of my clients qualify only based on their intent to hire ... low- to moderate-income paying jobs," Lillard said.
Many of the businesses that qualify for the loans likely would not plan to pay their staff more than the 80 percent threshold, Lillard noted.
"The likelihood of them paying somebody a salary that's going to be in excess of $43,000 is very slim for a small business owner," Lillard said.
Lillard noted that People staff usually first ask the business owner or potential entrepreneur if a bank has turned them down for financing.
"I guess at the end of the day it's high risk loans that we're making," Lillard said. "The idea behind this and the grant opportunity is job creation. It's helping small businesses to create jobs, which goes well for the community."
The other part of the program offers additional training and technical assistance to businesses at no cost. Potential entrepreneurs can receive help with writing a business plan, financial management, cash-flow projections Lillard said.
A proprietor in one county has run his business successfully for more than 30 years. Lillard said the owner never created a written business plan.
"Typically, the response that I get is 'yeah, the business plan is in my head. I've been doing it for 30 years,'" Lillard said. "The way of doing business a decade ago is so much different, with technology and banks. What happens is some people have a difficult time kind of changing their ways."
People Inc. works with the entrepreneurs to update their business through social media and the Internet. Lillard helps owners sell old inventory on ebay, for example.
People Inc. now is trying to promote the program and to attract applicants. Lillard pointed out that money in the grant to advertise and promote the program remains limited.
Lillard said not many business owners know about People Inc. or the micro-enterprise program, Lillard said. Some owners appear skeptical at first, knowing the dangers of payday loans and other programs that can lead to problems.
"When I'm doing workshop training that gives me a great opportunity to be in front of somewhat double-digit numbers to where I can speak to them about our other products like the loan program," Lillard said.
People Inc. also is working with local chambers of commerce to promote the business program. The nonprofit also has the assistance of local officials such as Jennifer McDonald, executive director for the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. People Inc. also has the support from area entrepreneurs and bankers. As Lillard noted, these are the people who the agency wants to be involved in the program as the prospective business owners seek local permits and loans.
Contact Lillard at 459-9096 for more information.
Information on the loan program from People Inc. is as follows:
- Up to 72 months financing
- Competitive rate
- 2% closing cost, no fee for early repayment
- 18 years or older
- U.S. citizenship or permanent resident
- Location of the business located in Warren, Clarke, Page or Shenandoah
- Ability to collateralize loan
Funds can be used for:
- Equipment, inventory, furnishings
- Working capital
- Start-up expense refinance
Funds cannot be used for:
- Residential rental property
- Multi-level marketing enterprises
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com