Waco area fund makes loans to businesses that might not otherwise qualify

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Not wanting their business to crumble or collapse, Jeff Logan and Jennifer Svacina got a $10,000 loan to keep their business afloat. A new source provided money to purchase merchandise for their JJ’s Balloons and to turn a part-time staffing position into a full-time position.

Now JJ’s Balloons, 1412 N. Valley Mills Drive, is well established. Logan was eagerly awaiting Svacina’s return from balloon deliveries on Friday so he could hit the road with more orders to fill. Baylor University’s homecoming was a dream come true for owners and their employees. Parade floats, McLane Stadium, tailgating venues and other venues quickly needed these air-filled plastic orbs.

JJ’s Balloons was delighted to oblige, who also recently delivered mountains of blue robin egg balloons to Amazon’s new Waco fulfillment center.

Logan said he and Svacina started the company about four years ago. They needed an influx of cash to weather the pandemic. Logan said their personal credit ratings were excellent, but the company had no track record.

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A friend suggested they seek relief from the McLennan Community Investment Fund, a local nonprofit set up in early 2021 to provide business loans to people who might not otherwise qualify. It falls under the purview of the US Treasury Department but depends on local funding to thrive, Chairman Bill Vance said. The city of Waco, McLennan County and at least three local banks provided start-up money.

Already 27 loans with a combined value of $237,225 have entered local pockets, said Vance, a former longtime judge of the Waco 10th Court of Appeals. But Vance said more money would come in if the local entity received certification from the Treasury Department as a community development financial institution.

Federal funds would supplement what is made available locally.

“Once we’re certified, we’ll be eligible for financial aid grants which are quite a number, half a million plus a year, all of which go into the loan program,” Vance said. “If I have one message for your readers, it’s this: If you know a business owner who needs money for inventory, working capital, equipment, or vehicles, send tell us.”

He said the program strives to help underserved communities, including people who struggle to meet traditional lending standards.

“Our underwriting criteria aren’t as stringent as the banks,” Vance said.

Loans made available through the investment fund carry fixed interest rates between 6% and 10%, according to an information package. But Vance said all loans through the local office have fixed rates of 6% or less.

“We didn’t have a default,” he said. “We have a policy to cover this eventuality, but we haven’t had one so far.”

New York this week hosted a gathering of members of community development finance institutions. McLennan Community Investment Fund Board Member Tom Chase and Managing Director Jane Allen went there on a fact-finding mission.

“We’re not members yet, but we’ll get there,” Chase said. “All the major banks are at this meeting, offering their loan and scholarship programs. We have the support of three local banks, which is not great. We are asking for more.”

Allen said the band’s application is pending and she is confident they will receive certification early next year. Joining means he becomes eligible for grants of $600,000 or more, which he will use to make loans. In the meantime, it will seek money from private sources and continue to process loans.

“What we are learning this week is that there are many donors who want to provide assistance to underserved areas of the country,” Allen said.

Startup Waco CEO Jon Passavant said his coworking center provides office space for the McLennan Community Investment Fund team at 605 Austin Ave. Staff can interact with business owners and fledgling entrepreneurs, some of whom may need advice or financial assistance.

Passavant said the investment fund is “a necessary option for growing small businesses, those not targeted by traditional lending.”

The fund’s website lists “partners and sponsors,” including the Cen-Tex Hispanic, African American, Bellmead, Greater Robinson, and Greater Waco Chambers of Commerce; East Waco Empowerment Project; the Cooper and Waco Foundations; Insurers’ Compensation Societies; Prosper Waco; Butterfly digital media; Waco boot; City of Waco and County of McLennan; First National Bank of Central Texas and Central National Bank; The Puerta Waco; Community Race Relations Coalition; and Small Business Development Center.

“More moral support than financial support,” Vance said of the band.

A fact sheet says the fund has received financial support from McLennan County, City of Waco, Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, Central National Bank, Community Bank & Trust, First National Bank of Central Texas, the Insurors Indemnity Co. of Waco and the Waco Foundation.

In addition to Chase and Vance, the fund’s board includes Waco City Council member Andrea Barefield and business leader Alfred Solano.

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