HARBOR SPRINGS -- People can't always rely on the big banks to help them turn a great idea into a small business.
When Jet Conrady saw the need for an ice-cream shop in Pellston, she automatically knew it would be a success. But with conventional lenders being wary of offering small business loans, where would she get additional funding? A referral to Northern Shores Loan Fund Inc. helped turn her business dreams into a reality.
"Northern Shores Loan Fund helped me pay for my equipment and my building," said Conrady. "Their help and support was instrumental in allowing me to chase my dreams and go for it."
Since its opening in 2008, the nonprofit fund has not only helped entrepreneurs start new businesses, but has expanded existing businesses in Northern Michigan. It serves six counties: Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska.
Lisa McComb, the executive director of Northern Shores Loan Fund Inc. said her organization ironically opened in the midst of a recession and couldn't have had better timing. The fund is incorporated under The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. After doing extensive research on the economy and the needs of their tribe, it then took seven years to get the fund's doors open.
McComb said that the growth and success rate of the loan fund has exceeded original expectations. This has allowed them to reach a major milestone earlier than they ever could have anticipated. Year to date, the loan fund has funded 10 businesses and has helped create or retain more than 31 jobs throughout Northern Michigan, which has helped several economies.
The Community Development Financial Institution says it provides loans that are often more flexible than standard bank loans, and the organization provides financing to small businesses that can't find the appropriate bank financing. Looking at each business on a case-by-case basis allows the fund to tailor the help specifically to the owner, business and industry it operates in.
The loan fund's range is quite diverse. It's helped home furnishers, a landscaper, retail stores, food services and even a salon.
"We don't just do loans," explains McComb. "That's why it works. We're dealing with higher risk businesses, so we also offer free business consulting. Loan participants are required to meet with us monthly or quarterly to make sure the business is doing what it set out to do."
The Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Program was created in 1994 by the Reigle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act.
Since its inception, the fund has made more than $500 million in awards to loan funds, banks, credit unions, and community development capital funds. Northern Shore Loan Fund is the only such institution based in this area. The fund is also the only certified Native loan fund in Northern Michigan. Being certified is a major distinction with the U.S. Department of Treasury because it shows that the fund is fiscally sound and operating well.
A common misconception is that the Native fund will serve only tribal members.
"The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa are very instrumental in creating a strong foundation for our organization," McComb said. "Our mission is to serve 51 percent tribal entrepreneurs as well as non-tribal entrepreneurs."
Laura Esford, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, was able to open up her own retail store with her daughters -- with the help of Northern Shores Loan Fund. Lah Lah's Preloved Clothing Boutique opened last fall in Petoskey.
"Lisa McComb knows a lot about everything and is extremely helpful and knowledgeable," Esford said. "If you're thinking about starting a business, give them a call and they will help you get a step by step plan to get you closer to opening up your own establishment."
The 4-year-old loan fund is committed to expanding its services to more businesses.
The fund was awarded $725,000 last fall from the U.S. Department of Treasury. According to McComb, they can now increase their loan limits and now lend between $500 and $100,000 per client.
"I don't think many people know we exist," McComb concluded. "I think we're the best kept secret in business financing."
Northern Shores Loan Fund's offices are in Harbor Springs. To learn more about the fund, visit its website at www.northernshoresloanfund.org or contact its offices at (231) 347-6753.