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Accion to lend to businesses in state

By David Smith

This article was published June 16, 2011 at 3:51 a.m.

— Accion Texas-Louisiana, a San Antonio-based micro-lender, has agreed to make loans below $50,000 to small businesses in the Arkansas Delta, Janie Barrera, the firm’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday.

Accion, a not-for-profit organization that was foundedin 1994, makes small loans in Texas and Louisiana and is the largest micro-lender in the country, Barrera said.

The loans in Arkansas will be made initially in Ashley County, Cotton Plant, Helena-West Helena, Fairfield Bay, Warren and likely through the El Dorado Women’s Center.

There are as many as 30 other Arkansas communities interested in participating, said Chuck Davis, business development specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s office in Little Rock. The program should begin by the fall and could eventually spread throughout the state, not just in the Delta, Barrera said.

Accion has partnered with the SBA in Little Rock to get meetings with community representatives in the Delta, Barrera said.

“People who are not bankable, for whatever reason, apply for the loans,” Barrera said. “Because we are a notfor-profit, we can be more flexible in our lending than banks. But at the same time, we have standards, just like banks.”

The average credit score of Accion borrowers is 575, well below most banks’ cutoff of 680, Barrera said. Yet, in the past 17 years, Accion has had a repayment rate of 92 percent, Accion said.

Borrowers must have some form of collateral to qualify for the loans, which have a maximum term of six years.Interest rates range up to 12 percent but could be 8 percent or lower, based on the borrower’s collateral, Barrera said. Accion’s average loan is about $12,000.

The borrower’s business, which may be a one-man operation or a home-based business, has to create at least one new job within a year, Barrera said.

In Texas, Accion’s borrowers created almost 2,200 jobs from 1994 to 2009.

Startup companies account for most of the jobs created in the United States, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, which bills itself as the largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship.

There were about 40 million jobs created in the country from 1980 to 2005, the study said. Almost all of those jobs were created by businesses less than 5 years old. Businesses older than that created almost no net jobs in the 25-year period, the study indicated.

“Our next step in Arkansas is meeting with stakeholders to see if we can get some financial support,” Barrera said. “We are not a grant program. People will have to pay these loans back.”

The financial support may come from investors or banks, Barrera said. The SBAwill make loans to Accion, but Accion will have to provide matching funds, said Linda Nelson, director of the SBA’s Little Rock district.

A group of business executives who volunteer with the SBA will provide technical assistance for the small businesses, Nelson said.

“A lot of these businesses do need some hand-holding, and that mitigates some of the risk,” Nelson said.

Larry Coulter, mayor of Montrose, a community of 500 about 12 miles west of Lake Village, represents four Ashley County communities that Accion will work with. The other three towns are Wilmot, Portland and Parkdale.

“We know there are no Nissan or Toyota plants that are going to plop down in Montrose,” Coulter said. “But we can work from within our communities. That’s our goal. What has surprised me is the creativity, the entrepreneurial spirit [in the Ashley County communities]. Once you have opened up an avenue for these people to get a business started, they just come out of the woodwork.”

Accion is looking to hire a loan officer to find prospects for business loans in Arkansas, Barrera said.

There already are two SBA-approved micro-lenders in Arkansas - Forge Inc. in Huntsville and .altConsulting Inc. in Pine Bluff, Davis said.

Business, Pages 27 on 06/16/2011

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