Small Enterprise Has Vital Local Ally
BY GARY REDFERN
Special to the Imperial Valley Weekly/Calexico Chronicle
For many people seeking to start or maintain a small business, experts agree the main impediment often is obtaining funding because they not only lack the necessary credit history, but also do not even know how business financing works.
Yet, self employment is widely regarded as one of the solutions to bringing down the high unemployment and poverty rates in Imperial County. Locally there are many informal “cottage industries”-child care, landscaping, food catering and auto repair-whose operators could greatly increase their incomes and employ others if they became established businesses.
“(There are) people that don’t see themselves as a business that charges for their services. Or they may have a hard time charging for it” and becoming a licensed business, explained Valery Belloso, chief strategy officer for Accion, a nonprofit corporation that specializes in lending to businesses that may not qualify for conventional lending from financial institutions such as banks and credit unions.
“Capital is always the hardest part. How to navigate the credit and lending system. People don’t know about credit,” she added.
Accion offers loans from $300-$75,000, often providing small loans not available from traditional financial institutions.
The Southern California Accion group began lending in Imperial County in mid-2015 and opened an El Centro office in early 2016. It is located at 1405 N. Imperial Ave.
The regional group is headquartered in San Diego and also serves San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It operates independently but benefits from being connected to the national and international Accion network, Belloso explained. Accion is funded by a variety of sources, including grants from local and federal government agencies, corporate grants, and contributions from financial institutions, charitable foundations and individual philanthropists.
“I led the expansion (into Imperial County). Our partners were saying there is a need and we looked into it to see if it was a viable area (for our loan program),” recalled Belloso, who works out the San Diego office and supervises the El Centro office.
The El Centro business development officer is Larisa Vega.
“We aim to help low- to moderate-income businesses. The entire Imperial County is designated as low- to moderate income,” Belloso said.
Asked how she assesses the move to Imperial County, she said, “We have exceeded our goals.”
In about two years the El Centro Accion office has funded 56 loans totaling $650,800, Belloso said, adding the average loan size is $11,621. Forty percent of the borrowers have been start-ups and the rest existing businesses seeking to expand. Ventures getting assistance include child care, trucking, landscaping, dog grooming and restaurants, Belloso said.
Accion data show each loan creates or maintains 2.5-3 jobs, Belloso added, important in a county where the unemployment rate routinely exceeds 20 percent.
Explaining why businesses seek an Accion loan, Belloso said new businesses “need steady income to cover bills while they wait for their business to make a profit” and existing entrepreneurs state, “We’re stagnant. We’re just floating by. How do they grow? They need an injection of permanent working capital and not to be living paycheck to paycheck.”
Using in-person discussions and a loan application detailing the person’s or business’ finances and background, Belloso said Accion does an assessment to see if the prospective borrower can afford a loan and benefit from it.
“Giving them tangible feedback on how to improve their credit and be ready for bank loans down the road. We give them feedback on their venture,” she said.
Also offered are local workshops that are free and open to the public and feature business and financial experts, as well as a library of written and video materials. Accion partners with the El Centro Small Business Development Center, which provides assistance with business plans, licensing, permitting and location selection.
“It’s important for businesses to come by and get a second opinion,” Belloso said. “Sometimes the best thing people can hear is ‘not now’ or maybe they can try a different way. We want to help them translate that to success. If you are a startup, having experience is so important.”
Accion in El Centro may be reached at (760) 223-9394.
Planet Business Center Holds Grand Opening
BY CAROL HANN
The Calexico Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Thursday, August 31 at Planet Business Center located in the building of the former post office at 237 Rockwood Avenue.
Elected and appointed city dignitaries and members of the chamber participated in the cutting of the ribbon. Miriam Serra, manager of Planet Business Center, received a Certificate of Recognition from Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia’s field representative, Stella Jimenez.
Following the ceremony, attendees were given a tour of the newly remodeled two-story facility. The chamber mixer provided an opportunity for businesses throughout the valley to network. Hors d’oeuvres were furnished by the Yum Yum Restaurant.
Planet Business Center provides a place where clients may rent offices, desk space and conference rooms, all with internet access. Fax and photocopying services are also available. The facilities may be rented on an hourly, daily, monthly or long term basis. Office furnishings were purchased from 360 Business Products (formerly known as Office Supply Company) in El Centro.
Planet Business Center is open Monday through Saturday and also provides private mail boxes and services for shipping and receiving of packages.