Loan fund aids new & growing businesses

Click here for the original story in the Athens News

By Fred Kight, Writer


Jimmy Stockwell is one of those lucky people who has figured out a way to bring home a paycheck from something he really enjoys doing – in his case, making beer.

“Owning a local business has given me the opportunity to become even more involved in this community that I love so much by making a product that mirrors my values,” said the co-owner of Little Fish Brewing Company on Armitage Road in Athens. “I feel very fortunate to be doing something I care so much about for a living.”

How did he do it? Hard work and long hours, and crucially, financial help from a local lender that was established to give Stockwell and others like him a financial boost.

The lender, the Athens County Small Business Micro Revolving Loan Fund, is administered by the Athens County Economic Development Council, which itself secured funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Development Program.

The ACEDC’s loan fund is intended to help businesses, specifically new and expanding ones in Athens County.

Stockwell explained how the loan helped Little Fish. “Our use of the (loan) was… to implement a number of projects we had put on hold originally when we were starting out,” he said. “We needed a forklift, bottling machine, and we used funds to install our solar array.”

New businesses especially need help. Many banks will not give loans to startups.

But the Small Business Micro Revolving Loan Fund will issue loans to qualifying startups, for as much as $50,000 at what is considered a generous interest rate.

Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, is in charge of the loan fund.

“Micro-lending can be challenging for traditional commercial lenders because the expense to generate the loan is not any different than the expense to generate a larger loan,” she said, noting that larger loans are more profitable. “Also, individuals applying still have to be creditworthy for consideration.”

The loan fund currently has $100,000 available for qualified borrowers, and it’s “easy” to apply, according to Marrs-Maxfield.

Stockwell agrees. “The application was similar to any other bank loan,” he said. “The employees were very helpful when we had questions and made the process near painless.”

Established in 2015, the loan fund so far has had just one customer – Little Fish – which obtained financing for the $50,000 maximum amount. The brewery is being charged 5 percent interest over a seven-year payback period.

Businesses that are eligible to participate can employ traditional or new technology. The owners do not have to be local as long as the facility is located in Athens County.

They can use the loan for a variety of purposes, including working capital and buildings and facilities, and machinery and equipment.

However, some projects are not eligible for loans, including the refinancing of existing debt, non-capital equipment, training costs and inventory.

Little Fish Brewing Co., which is co-owned by Sean White, opened in the summer of 2015. This followed two years planning, financing, and building.

“Business is better than we had originally projected, which has allowed us to implement some of our more ambitious goals… much sooner,” Stockwell said. “We hope to begin construction on a small expansion to our production area later this winter.”

The Little Fish plan is to not grow too big, but if Stockwell and White change their minds, they could take advantage of two other revolving loan funds managed by the Athens County Economic Development Council.

These programs offer loans of up to $500,000, and they, too, are designed to encourage the expansion and stability of Athens’ economic base and provide more jobs.