'Grow Olympia Fund' could help small businesses expand through loans

OlympianMay 20, 2014 

The Olympia City Council discussed Tuesday a plan for allocating federal grant money to efforts such as the creation of a small business loan program known as the "Grow Olympia Fund."

The city plans to request $642,375 in Community Development Block Grant funding to benefit a number of economic development projects. One chunk - $250,000 - would go toward the Grow Olympia Fund as seed money for small businesses.

City planner Leonard Bauer told the council that the goal is to retain and grow existing downtown businesses, specifically storefront businesses. The loans would target businesses involved in light manufacturing, information technology, professional services and theater arts performance/retail, he said.

"This would be for businesses that have been here a while and are ready to take the next step and grow," he said.

Michelle Morlan, a consultant with the Grow America Fund (GAF), said her non-profit organization would administer loans through Olympia's program. She said the program is meant to assist businesses that are considered above the level of a startup, but lack access to conventional bank financing. By working in conjunction with programs such as the Small Business Administration, the recipients of these loans would have the potential to stretch the money by 75 percent, she said.

GAF operates in more than 40 communities, including Tacoma. One success story in Tacoma is Stadium Thriftway, a small grocer that used the loan to expand its building and add 30 new employees, according to a city report.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to set a 30-day public comment period beginning June 1 on its planned use of the federal grant funding. Following the council's expected approval in July, the requests for the block grant funding will be forwarded to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We are beginning to make progress in forming a program that will start to revitalize our local economy and focus on homegrown businesses," Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the council approved the selection of sculptures for the city's annual Percival Plinth Project. The Olympia Arts Commission selected 13 sculptures plus one alternate to display on platforms - known as plinths - along the waterfront at Percival Landing.

This will be the fourth year for the project. Each year, the public votes on a favorite sculpture. The city then buys the sculpture for permanent display.

This year's submissions have come from all over the region and include work by five Olympia artists and one Lacey artist. The new sculptures will be installed the week of July 7, and a kickoff event July 25 will allow the public to meet the artists, according to Trent Hart, chairman of the arts commission.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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