Forks considering business boot camp partnership, loan program

FORKS — The Forks City Council will consider working with an Olympia nonprofit to make local business owners eligible for low-interest loans.

City Attorney Rod Fleck hopes the council will decide to partner with Enterprise for Equity and apply for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Economic Opportunity funds for a two-year micro-business development program.

Enterprise for Equity is a nonprofit that provides business planning programs that aim to help people with limited incomes start and grow small businesses.

Fleck said business owners or those looking to start one could enroll in classes through Enterprise for Equity to become more business savvy.

The city is proposing $250,000 of CDBG investment into the region for those two years.

Of that, $150,000 would be dedicated toward business training and technical assistance and $100,000 would be earmarked for a “micro loan fund.”

Enterprise for Equity currently operates a micro loan program offering loans up to $25,000 to entrepreneurs who complete its business planning program.

“It’s very much a boot camp for businesses,” Fleck said, adding those that went through the program could then potentially apply for the low-interest loans. “The idea is to try to create businesses that are long lasting and address any debt issues.”

The classes would be in Forks and on Saturdays for several months, he said.

The idea was presented during the Forks City Council meeting Jan. 9 and council members wanted more information, Fleck said.

The council will consider scheduling a hearing for February when it meets again at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23.

It would take city staff about a month to draft a proposal, provide public notice and submit an application to the state Department of Commerce to fund the program for two years.

The grant the city would be applying for is highly competitive, Fleck said.

Typically governments apply for CDBG money from the general purpose or housing funds, he said.

“The economic opportunity grant is pretty competitive across the state,” he said.

Fleck said the nonprofit has helped launch 13 businesses in 2016 through its business training workshops in Aberdeen and Forks.

Those planning programs were funded through a different grant that has since expired, he said.

The businesses include a cultural tourism business, a wood boat kit manufacturer, beekeepers, a construction business, a chocolate maker, a tiny homes builder, a food truck, a dog boarding business, a stump grinder, a nature-inspired fitness company, a sustainable vegetable and hog producer and a light manufacturer of art equipment.

“We’re continuing to look at ways to expand our existing business sector,” Fleck said. “Small businesses are the backbone of our business sector.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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