Olympia has launched a new program that will provide loans for fledgling small businesses in the downtown area.
The Grow Olympia Fund is intended to help businesses that lack access to conventional bank loans. The loans come with lower interest rates and can go toward expansion, machinery, storefront improvements and debt refinancing.
The program officially kicked off Thursday with an open house at City Hall. Last summer, the Olympia City Council approved $250,000 in federal block grants to go toward the Grow Olympia Fund.
Grow Olympia Fund loans are available for business that have been open at least three years. The city is partnering with the non-profit National Development Council’s Grow America Fund, which will administer loans to local businesses from a total available pool of about $1 million, according to city staff.
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“It’s about investing in our own community and creating a more sustainable and diverse economy,” Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said at Thursday’s open house. “This has the potential of being a really helpful tool for local businesses.”
Darin Blaine, an Olympia accountant, attended the open house to broaden his knowledge about options for the small business owners who are part of his clientele. One obstacle for business owners isn’t just a lack of money, but a lack of information on where to find more of it.
“Some of them just don’t know where to look,” Blaine said.
Eric Gutierrez, co-owner of Taqueria La Esquinita restaurant, attended Thursday’s open house to learn about a loan that could expand his business — not just physically, but financially. Located at 430 Legion Way SE, the restaurant needs more seating beyond its current seven tables, he said.
“At lunchtime, people don’t want to wait for a table,” he said. “In downtown, the main source of business is at lunchtime. If you lose the lunch rush, it’s bad for you.”
Jim Haley, president of Thurston First Bank, urged local banks to consider how they can team up and help revitalize the downtown economy. The bank has already committed $10 million in loans for such projects in the area – enough for about 100 loans with criteria similar to the Grow Olympia Fund, he said.
“This is all about redeveloping downtown Olympia,” Haley said Thursday.