Organizations: Appalachian Community Enterprises
Local Origins: Executive Director Grace Fricks, a self-described civic entrepreneur, founded Appalachian Community Enterprises (ACE) in her Clarkesville home 10 years ago. She was spurred by a call from current ACE board member Kim Foster, then an official at North Georgia Technical College, bemoaning the lack of options for graduates who wanted to start small businesses but couldn’t get conventional loans from local banks. The two decided to create a loan fund, securing financial backing from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal source.
Who’s Eligible?: “We make small business loans to help people who do not have access to financing [to] start or expand a small business,” Fricks says. “Our loans are $35,000 and below.” In some rural counties, though, ACE can use USDA funds to make loans up to $50,000. To date ACE has made more than 200 loans with a value of more than $3.5 million and manages it all with a full- and part-time staff of 10, several of whom bring major league banking and small business development experience to the ACE team. The organization serves 34 counties in north Georgia, and has recently expanded to surround the Athens and Metro Atlanta areas.
Where Does The Money Come From?: In addition to the USDA, ACE receives funds from the FDA and the U.S. Treasury Department, as well as from private foundations and donations. Fricks anticipates significant funding to come from the stimulus package aimed at retrofitting and weatherization projects. She expects the funds to be a boon for un- or under-employed local construction workers who may be ready to strike out on their own.
Extra Assistance: “One of the things that’s different about our program rather than a regular lender or finance company,” Fricks says, “is we couple education and support – like coaching, providing connections and financial education classes – with the loan. The idea is to help people – give them an extra shot to be more successful.”
Going Strong: One of ACE’s first clients, Gaines-ville’s Lisa Davies, is still in business with Happy Home Cleaning Services and her original partner has since branched off to open her own company in Dahlone-ga. Davies, who currently employs 10, checks in with Fricks regularly to brainstorm ways to keep things running at a time when many people are cutting back on her services. Among her ideas: green cleaning.
Thinking Green: Davies isn’t the only budding green entrepreneur, and to serve this growing group ACE has joined with Georgia’s two other rural micro lenders – Savannah’s Small Business Assistance Corp. and Albany Community Together – to create Georgia Green Loans. Partners such as Georgia Organics and Southface Energy Institute will help vet applicants.
Green loans have already funded two Cleveland businesses – American Installation, which makes doors from recycled styrofoam, and The Mill, a coffee shop that serves organic coffee and sells bulk herbs.