Column: More than just a loan | Opinion

When the pandemic forced in-store sales to plummet at Care Beauty Supply — located in The Point neighborhood of Salem — owner Jorge Ortiz received a loan to buy a new, larger van so he could make deliveries.

“Having a larger, more reliable vehicle, essentially a store on wheels, to make deliveries to customers has become critical to their success,” said Aaron Lackman, director of business services at Mill Cities Community Investments (MCCI), an institution local community development finance company (CDFI) which administers the Salem Small Business Loan Fund, from which Ortiz received his loan.

The Salem Small Business Loan Fund is part of a group of MCCI-administered funds recently established in Essex County towns – including Lynn, Haverhill and Lawrence – where the entrepreneurial spirit is strong and exists a disproportionate number of small and micro enterprises. .

“These businesses are the engine of our local economy. however, many struggle to access traditional financing to start and grow, said George Ramirez, executive director of the Lawrence Partnership, a collaboration of local leaders committed to an inclusive approach to growing businesses and creating opportunity. jobs in the town of Lawrence.

These long-standing challenges facing small businesses — especially those in gateway cities and low-income communities — have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has forced many of them to lay off employees, periodically close their doors or, worse, to close permanently. The collaborative work of MCCI – one of more than 1,000 CDFIs impacting cities and towns across the country – is more critical than ever.

In the communities it serves, MCCI – which strives to help revitalize neighborhoods by focusing on community development – leverages local partnerships to provide affordable loans that make owning a small business a reality for many more residents, including women and people of color.

“Scaling up black-owned businesses is not a good thing, it’s a necessity,” said Nicole Obi, the new president and CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, during the meeting. a recent panel focused on how to break down barriers that prevent Black owned businesses from reaching their full potential. Obi and other panelists spoke about one of the biggest hurdles – access to capital – and how CDFIs like MCCI provide alternative sources of financing for entrepreneurs.

But more than just a loan, the small business funds offered by MCCI open the door to much more.

“What makes these loan funds special is the buy-in from the whole community — local municipalities, banks, foundations and other business support organizations,” Lackman said.

These loan funds are part of a larger vision of the small business ecosystem, providing not only capital, but also the technical assistance, training, and access to networks that entrepreneurs need to grow and thrive. ECCF is proud to help expand this kind of systems support, which helps build resilience and sustainability and promote inclusive growth. Partners like Eastern Bank, Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation and many others are essential to the success of this work in our communities.

In Lawrence and Haverhill, Lackman said, MCCI has been fortunate to offer loans to a variety of small businesses, including restaurant and retail store owners, service providers and even some start-up manufacturing clients. , such as 99 Degrees and Spicket River Brewery, which collectively now employ more than 200 local residents.

The first local business to receive a loan through the Lynn Small Business Loan Fund – which was announced in late fall 2021 – is a Latina-owned insurance company. Lynn’s Economic Development & Industrial Corporation (EDIC) is one of many partners involved in the new fund and has a long history of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in the city.

“We are proud to play a role with the ECCF, Mill Cities, our local stakeholders and technical assistance providers and all financial institutions participating in the Lynn Loan Fund,” said Jim Cowdell, Executive Director of EDIC. “This new resource, combined with the more than 40 years of small business loans that EDIC has provided here in Lynn, will be another great tool in the town’s toolbox.”

“The year and a half spent helping small businesses survive this pandemic has shown all of us that every resource we can contribute can make a difference,” he added.

Small businesses have always been at the heart of our communities. They are gathering places to make connections. They create vibrancy – and we hope that with increased opportunities they will also showcase diversity – along our main streets.

Every business funded, every job created, and every relationship forged means the transformation of a life, a family, and ultimately a community.

“The Lawrence Partnership believes that the strongest economy is one that benefits the whole community, one where local businesses compete in regional and global markets, where local service providers meet the needs of their community, where the retail sector is vibrant and where the workforce is diverse and supported,” Ramirez said. “Our Lawrence Venture Loan Fund plays a vital role in making this possible.”

To learn more about the collaborative lending funds available through MCCI in Lawrence, Haverhill, Salem and Lynn – and to see a list of partner organizations and financial institutions – visit

Beth Francis is President and CEO of Essex County Community Foundation. Stratton Lloyd is the foundation’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

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