Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, delivers a State of the Chamber address in January 2020. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Marc Abshire, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, delivers a State of the Chamber address in January 2020. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Small network for loans in works

Clallam program mirrors Jefferson’s

PORT ANGELES — Efforts are underway in Clallam County to mirror a Jefferson County business borrowing program that links community-minded investors with entrepreneurs looking for loans too small for most banks to award.

Marc Abshire, Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce executive director, presented the outlines of the Clallam Opportunity Investment Network (COIN) last week via Zoom to participants of the Economic Development Council’s weekly “Coffee with Colleen” series of programs.

The investor-borrower programs are known as Local Investment Networks (LINs). The first one in Washington state was established in 2006 in Port Townsend as the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION), a thriving enterprise.

The Clallam County program will be run by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

COIN and LION are regulated under the “friends and family” provisions of the Securities and Exchange Commission that relieves borrowers and lenders of some reporting restrictions.

“The hope is that they get more than just funding support,” Abshire said Friday of the investor-borrower link.

“They get investors who are interested in their success and will do things that support them beyond funding, that they will be able to promote them and give advice and all those things, that fundamentally, there’s a relationship between the borrower and the investor, [that it’s] a symbiotic one,” Abshire said.

“The lender is a community resident who is a stakeholder in the community, and that’s why they are doing it. That’s what the program is founded on.”

Abshire said banking institutions typically won’t give loans for amounts less than $25,000 and often require higher amounts to loan money. That forces business owners to borrow large chunks on their credit cards.

Now with 68 members, LION has made at least 276 loans totalling more than $9.4 million to more than 80 businesses and nonprofit organizations, said Brian Kuh, executive director of EDC Team Jefferson, which administers the program on a voluntary basis.

Kuh said the totals are based on voluntary responses to member surveys.

Ninety-four percent of the investments were loans with average terms of 5.3 years and 5.2 percent interest.

The median invested is $28,575, although amounts ranged from $1,000 to $2.2 million, he said.

Kuh is a LION member. As a Clallam County resident, he is in COIN, too.

“It’s just a matchmaking group and an email list,” he said Friday. “It doesn’t give legal advice to other investors. It’s just a network by which local investment opportunities can be shared with interested parties.”

Kuh said LIN loans typically do not include collateral as a condition.

“There’s a promissory note, and there’s money given that allows people to start businesses who are at the beginning rung of building their wealth,” according to a 4½-minute video describing the program at LION’s website, jeffersonlion.net.

The video features LION founder and current Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval, Aldrich’s Market owners Christa and Yos Ligtenberg and LION investors Fran and Dan Post, who helped save the historic, much-loved store from closing in 2020.

Abshire said Wednesday at the EDC meeting that COIN investors decide what interest rate they will charge.

“It really depends on what the investors are really willing to risk,” Abshire said.

“COIN entrepreneurs that we will be putting forward for consideration to the COIN investors will have already gone though a great deal of mentorship and really a lot of work to develop a business plan that can succeed, and so a really important part of COIN is the work that Rick Dickinson and the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship are doing.”

The center has offices in Port Angeles, Seattle and Mount Vernon and serves Clallam, Jefferson, Skagit and Island counties.

“Just starting out in the blocks, our participants in COIN can rest assured they are not going to be looking at presentations from entrepreneurs that are unvetted,” Abshire said.

He said Friday he expects the average loan to be about $10,000 but expects it would range between $2,000 and $25,000, a prohibitive amount for a person who can’t get a bank loan and must turn to a credit card because of a need for only so much money.

Business owners will submit a business plan to COIN and not be applying for specific amounts, Abshire said Friday. Presentations to multiple can be included.

“They can’t say, ‘I’m looking for a loan from one of you guys,” Abshire said.

“They will say, here’s a five-year plan, and in three years, I will need capital. It will be one of those kinds of things.”

Abshire said an attempt was made around 2014 or 2015 to get a LIN started in Clallam County.

The chamber has been working since 2019 to get it going, but it was interrupted by the pandemic, he said.

Partners include Craft3, the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, North Olympic Development Center, the Clallam County EDC, EDC Team Jefferson and LION.

“With many success stories, like Finnriver Farm & Cidery, LION is widely considered the ‘gold standard’ among Local Investment Networks in the nation,” Abshire said in a text message.

The Association of Washington Cities has worked with Washington State University Metropolitan Center for Applied Research & Extension on supporting Local Investment Networks throughout the state.

The AWC and WSU have produced a field guide and educational videos on LINs, said AWC Special Projects Coordinator Andy Meyer, a former Clallam County planning director.

He said Friday there are about six established LINs in the state and about six more getting underway.

“It does need a local champion, so I’m pleased the chamber has decided this is something, with the North Olympic Development Council, that this is something that can fly,” Meyer said.

The program’s success depends on every business owner and lender doing their own due diligence.

“They really should have legal and financial advice on both sides,” Meyer said.

Contracts between borrowers and lenders can be highly customized, right down to investors getting paid with currency other than dollars, he added, noting cheese sufficed for one LION transaction.

“What goes a long way to make sure things stay in the right place is a business owner trying to do something in the community and a lender investing in the community, and the relationship between those two folks that you’d like to see work out,” Meyer said.

“That community investment piece is a big part of this.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

________

Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, serves on the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce board of directors and is vice chair of the Economic Development Corp. board of directors.

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