Mountain BizWorks — profile

Each year, millions of dollars in loans flow into Western North Carolina-based businesses, and Mountain BizWorks is a big reason it happens.

In 2015, the group made “nearly $2 million in loans to 80 new and existing local businesses. Those businesses directly created 175 new, good jobs in our community and supported an additional 200 jobs,” says Matt Raker, director of community investments and impact at Mountain BizWorks.

In its 25 years of service to the region, this was the organization’s largest lending year yet. Another accomplishment came in September when the Minority Enterprise Development Committee of WNC named Mountain BizWorks the Minority Business Lender of the Year.

“Nearly one-third of our clients were minority-owned businesses,” Raker says.

Community Development Financial Institutions such as Mountain BizWorks provide increased access to credit and other services that contribute to the economic stabilization of families and communities, says Maggie Cramer, communications and program manager. Nearly 1,300 CFDIs operate in the United States, 16 of which are in North Carolina.

“We’re living and working in a time when many banks aren’t offering business loans and when it’s more difficult than in the past for small businesses to get the funds and help they require,” she says. “In other words, there is more need now than ever for CDFIs.”

For Mountain BizWorks in particular, the goal is a vibrant and inclusive economy. “Mountain BizWorks’ mission is to generate jobs and ensure economic resiliency in Western North Carolina by helping small businesses start, thrive and grow,” Cramer explains.

As a result of their lending and coaching activity, 2015 saw the creation of 35 new businesses and support to another 65, she says. Once new businesses are created, Mountain BizWorks offers multiple training and coaching programs, including a new child care business skills course in conjunction with Smart Start and the Self-Help Credit Union.

“Our community needs more child care centers, and those folks passionate about caring for and educating our children often need assistance in launching and running a successful child care business,” she says. “It’s a win-win.”

The organization also acquired ScaleUp WNC, a management training program to help small businesses grow.

“Starting a business is hard work,” says Cramer. “Scaling a business is equally hard and often requires different strategy and skills than used in the startup phase. The ScaleUp WNC program works with existing entrepreneurs and small-business owners from across Western North Carolina that have demonstrated initial success and have potential for significant growth.”

Participating businesses are offered mentorships, management training, access to capital and other critical resources throughout the membership year. Beyond that one year, businesses have access to a strong peer CEO network and ScaleUp WNC alumni. It’s all in the name of helping companies achieve breakthrough growth and contributing to the small-business-led economic development of Western North Carolina, she says.

‘Investing local is the next step’

Aside from the two new programs, Mountain BizWorks offers other networking and peer-to-peer resources in both English and Spanish for local businesses. In all, nearly 400 clients received business coaching last year, representing such diverse business types as construction, manufacturing, retail and health care. Interested community members can support the mission of Mountain BizWorks by participating in the community investor program, an effort the organization hopes to grow in 2016.

“This year, we’re looking to grow our lending by another 25 percent or so to help meet the need for small-business lending across the region,” Raker says.

The individuals and organizations that invest in Mountain BizWorks are directly responsible for helping women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses, among others, he says. “The money that people and institutions invest in Mountain BizWorks, combined with our own capital, creates the pool of funds from which we lend to help small businesses start, grow and create jobs,” says Cramer. “Investors can invest as little as $1,000 and choose terms as short as one year or as long as 10 years. Investors receive a fixed-rate annual simple interest return of 0 to 3 percent.”

For WNC residents, Cramer says, investing local just makes sense. “Folks in WNC eat local and shop local, and investing local is the next step.”

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About Rachel Ingram
Rachel freelances for Mountain Xpress. She still can't believe she gets paid to meet new people and explore Western North Carolina on her days off from her "real" job as a direct care provider at a residential treatment center for youth (which she also thoroughly enjoys). To round it out, she also likes to drink wine, swim, backpack and cook, but not in that order.

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