Akos Kovach, Liza Noland

Akos Kovach and Liza Noland discuss microloan applications with guests at an informational meeting held at the Blue Door Sanctuary.

CLIFTON — This weekend will be one of the largest shopping holidays of the year for small businesses, but a new lending program may allow small business owners to do some shopping of their own.

Last week, Local First Arizona and the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation Greenlee County Community Investment fund hosted a microloan informational meeting in Clifton.

The program offers smaller loans to businesses so that they can, “. . . stay competitive in a continuously changing economy.”

Liza Noland, director of rural programs with the Arizona Rural Development Council, hosted the meeting at the Blue Door Sanctuary in Clifton. She told the crowd there is $50,000 up for grabs as part of the program, with loan amounts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

The program lends at a 7-percent interest interest rate, to be paid back over two to three years. The program is a revolving loan fund, meaning the funds paid back are used to fund yet more loans.

Who qualifies for a loan?

The program is served by an independent committee of seven members — five from Graham and two from Greenlee — who select projects based on merit and the presented business plan/proposal.

“They’re basically waiting on pins and needles for applications,” Noland said.

There was interest from the crowd, not just with business owners but also those who have a vested interest in seeing local business grow.

Greenlee County Economic Development Coordinator Akos Kovach told Noland he suspected that the crowd would have been larger if more small business owners had been able to attend during the meeting hours.

Clifton Town Manager Rudy Perez showed an interest in a flyer or informational form the town could have available for interested parties at either the public library or Town Hall.

There were also representatives from Eastern Arizona College’s Small Business Development Center looking to make the connection between applicants and the loan committee.

“Let us be the mediator for your loan,” the SBDC’s Charmaine Chidester said. “We can get you ready to get in front of that committee.”

“The purpose is to fund loans that build capacity for smaller business entrepreneurs where they’re not eligible for loans from larger banks,” Noland told the Copper Era. She gave advice for small business owners who might be asking themselves if they need a loan.

“Loans we’ve given in the past are a really good example of what works for the future. We’ve given a loan for a painting company that was offering one service; and by getting a very small loan, they were able to add a machine that helped them add exterior painting to their services and the advertising dollars to market that new service. The second is a restaurant that wanted to expand outdoors onto a patio. They expanded their facility, which then offered them the opportunity to add in more employment, new jobs and attract a larger lunch business and do more service there,” Noland said.

“Another was somebody with a really good existing contract with a larger company that didn’t have the equipment to facilitate that contract. So a small loan to be able to access that equipment helped them to achieve that contract and get similar contracts in the future.”

The application can be found online at www.azmicroloans.com.

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