Entrepreneurship Fund Established in Chatham County NC
Entrepreneurs in Chatham County could get a financial boost in the midst of a struggling economy, thanks to a recently implemented loan fund. The Chatham County Economic Development Corporation and the Center for Community Self-Help have established the Chatham Loan Fund, which will help finance loans to residents who are starting or operating a business in the area. Dianne Reid, the president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, said the fund will target businesses owned by local women and minorities, as well as residents as young as 18 years of age. “We want to increase credit availability,” Reid said. “It’s an issue — the sources of loans are still few and the standards are really high.” She added that now is a crucial time for such a fund, as a struggling economy causes people to search for ways to keep a steady flow of income. “One of the things that traditionally happens in a recession is that more people turn to entrepreneurship and self-employment,” Reid said. “Sometimes they lose their job or they need to enhance their income by supplementing it.” Roberta Boyd-Norfleet, the regional director of the Self-Help Central NC Branch, said the county approached the organization when it first began plans for the fund. “We’ve had a prior relationship with the CCEDC, so it was a very easy partnership,” Boyd-Norfleet said. Many of the loan applicants will need only minimal financial assistance, such as a few thousand dollars for a piece of equipment, and Self-Help has experience with those smaller, non-commercial loans — which is why the actual loan administration will be left up to The Center for Community Self-Help. “Our commissioners were not interested in doing that. We wanted to have an agent whose business is making loans,” Reid said.
That’s the main difference between Chatham County’s loan fund and the one established in Carrboro in 1986, through which the town’s Board of Aldermen helps with the application and administration process. Still, both loan funds have similar goals. James Harris, the director of economic and community development in Carrboro, said the town’s loan fund has assisted many entrepreneurs and fostered economic growth in the area. “It’s really helped build our small-business base. It’s been a positive thing,” Harris said. Carrboro’s fund, which helped — among other establishments — Weaver Street Market get started, also aims to give the job market a boost: For every $10,000 the town gives to business owners, at least one job must be created. Harris said many entrepreneurs who can’t get a traditional loan from banks often qualify for Carrboro’s loan fund. As long as applicants have viable projects with a well-developed business plan and the loan is collateralized, high-risk ventures — such as restaurants — typically are not turned down. Reid said she’s confident that Chatham County’s loan fund, like Carrboro’s, will be a long-term fixture in the local economy. As the fund grows in the coming years, she said the county expects other sources of capital to develop, including a pool of funds from individual investors. So far, there have been only inquiries into Chatham County’s loan fund, but Boyd-Norfleet emphasized that’s due to the newness of the fund and not a lack of need for it. “It’s a hard time to lend and a hard time to borrow,” she said. “This brings the playing field to a different level and keeps the doors open.” By Keely Stockett, The Herald-Sun
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