Waco-area fund getting loans to ventures that might not otherwise qualify

Waco-area fund getting loans to ventures that might not otherwise qualify

Not wanting their business to go flat or flutter away, Jeff Logan and Jennifer Svacina secured a $10,000 loan to keep their venture afloat. A new source provided money to buy merchandise for their JJ’s Balloons and to turn a part-time staffing position to full-time.

Now JJ’s Balloons, 1412 N. Valley Mills Drive, is sitting pretty. Logan anxiously awaited Svacina’s return from balloon deliveries Friday so he could hit the road with more orders to fill. Baylor University’s homecoming kept the owners and their employees hopping. Parade floats, McLane Stadium, tailgating sites and other venues promptly needed those air-filled orbs of plastic.

Glad to oblige was JJ’s Balloons, which also recently delivered mountains of robin egg blue balloons to Amazon’s new Waco fulfillment center.

Logan said he and Svacina founded the company about four years ago. They needed a cash influx to weather the pandemic. Logan said their personal credit scores were stellar, but the business had no track record.

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A friend suggested they pursue relief from the McLennan Community Investment Fund, a local nonprofit established in early 2021 to provide business loans to people who might not otherwise qualify. It falls under the purview of the U.S. Treasury Department but relies on local funding to thrive, President Bill Vance said. The city of Waco, McLennan County and at least three local banks provided money to get started.

Already 27 loans with a combined value of $237,225 have entered local pockets, said Vance, a long-serving former justice on the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco. But Vance said more money will arrive if the local entity receives certification form the Treasury Department as a Community Development Financial Institution.

Federal funds would supplement what is made available locally.

“Once we are certified, we will be eligible for financial assistance grants that run into fairly large numbers, half-a-million plus per year, all of which goes into the loan program,” Vance said. “If I have a message for your readers, it’s this: If you know of a business owner needing money for inventory, working capital, equipment or vehicles, send them our way.”

He said the program strives to assist under-served communities, including people struggling to meet traditional lending standards.

“Our underwriting criteria is not as stringent as banks,” Vance said.

Loans made available through the investment fund carry fixed interest rates between 6% and 10%, according to an information packet. But Vance said all loans through the local office have featured fixed rates of 6% or less.

“We have not had a default,” he said. “We have a policy to cover that eventuality, but we have not had one to date.”

New York this week hosted a gathering of Community Development Financial Institution members. McLennan Community Investment Fund board member Tom Chase and Executive Director Jane Allen traveled there on a fact-finding mission.

“We’re not a member yet, but we will get there,” Chase said. “All the big banks are at this meeting, proposing their loan and grant programs. We have support from three local banks, which is not great. We’re pushing for more.”

Allen said the group’s application is pending, and she is confident it will receive certification early next year. Membership means it becomes eligible for grants of $600,000 or more, which it will use to make loans. Meantime, it will pursue money from private sources and continue processing loans.

“What we’re learning this week is there are many grantors wanting to provide assistance to under-served areas of the country,” Allen said.

Startup Waco CEO Jon Passavant said his co-working center provides office space to the McLennan Community Investment Fund team at 605 Austin Ave. Staff there can interact with fledgling business owners and entrepreneurs, some who may need advice or financial help.

Passavant said the investment fund is “an option needed by small and growing businesses, those not targets of traditional lending.”

The fund website lists “partners and sponsors,” including the Cen-Tex Hispanic, African American, Bellmead, Greater Robinson and Greater Waco chambers of commerce; East Waco Empowerment Project; Cooper and Waco foundations; Insurors Indemnity Companies; Prosper Waco; Butterfly Digital Media; Startup Waco; city of Waco and McLennan County; First National Bank of Central Texas and Central National Bank; La Puerta Waco; Community Race Relations Coalition; and Small Business Development Center.

“More moral support than financial support,” Vance said of the group.

A fact sheet says the fund has received financial support from McLennan County, the city of Waco, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, Central National Bank, Community Bank & Trust, First National Bank of Central Texas, Insurors Indemnity Co. of Waco and the Waco Foundation.

Besides Chase and Vance, the fund’s board includes Waco City Council Member Andrea Barefield and business leader Alfred Solano.

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