Seven banks in Glynn County, Ga., have established a program to help people become small-business owners by providing more than money.
Dubbed the Enter-Prize Program, the effort informs aspiring entrepreneurs of the local resources available, assist with trading and counseling, and, most important, provides financing to qualified loan applicants.
Its financing arm, the Enter-Prize Loan Program, is a joint endeavor between the seven banks, most of them small, and the Coastal Area District Development Authority. The banks perform all the lending services, but actually provide only half the loan. The other half comes from the development authority, a regional, nonprofit organization that serves 26 cities and eight counties.
The authority, which got its start in 1976 from a Department of Commerce grant, is now self-supporting, with a revolving loan lool of $7.5 million in outstanding loans ans $750,000 to $1 million in available funding.
Enter-Prize loan brochures tout "eligibility requirements which are more flexible than traditional credit standards," in order to reach people who were either previously frustrated or rejected in their attempts to get small-business financing.
"There used to be this feeling that once a request was declined, there was nothing you could do, and no explanation of what could be done to get the credit repaired," said Rod Leuth, president of Frederica Bank and Trust, one of Enter-Prize's member banks.
Advice and Referrals
Applicants with problematic credit histories are referred to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Savannah, Ga., which offers budgeting and money management advice free of charge.
Those applicants who need advice on how to draw up a business plan, complete financial statements or keep records, are sent to the University of Gerogia's Small Business Development Center, which is also an active participant in the program.
The seven banks involved are Barnett bank of Southeast Georgia, a local subsidiary of Barnett Banks, Inc., with $192 million of assets; Coastal Bank of Georgia, a subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp., with assets of $125 million; First Bank of Brunswick with $21 million; First Federal Savings, with $200 million; First Georgia Bank, with $150 million; Trust Company Bank of Southeast Georgia, with $359 million, and Frederica, with $40 million.
All the banks lend at a rate of prime plus 2% under the program, and each institution receives equal billing on the Enter-Prize brochures.
"It's more of a cooperative effort than a competitive effort," Mr. Leuth said. "We don't want to steal customers from each other. We all realize what's good for the community."
Edward Pickney Jr., vice president of Trust Company Bank, said at least 30 applications have been filed since the program was unveiled in mid-August. He projects that by year-end, the program will have launched five small businesses in Glynn County.
"THis is not for a particular race of people or for a particular gender. We want to get all these people who think they can be entrepreneurs to be part of the mainstream and to own their own business - which is the American dream," he said.