Cash is the lifeblood of any business, so when banks and other traditional lenders say no, entrepreneurs are sometimes forced to abandon their dreams or seek other methods of financing.
In Charlotte, the Urban League of Central Carolinas has been working for nearly a year to address that issue, especially for individuals and business owners in communities where bank loans don’t come as easily.
Working in tandem with Carolina Premier Bank in Ballantyne, the local Urban League has helped Charlotte-area business owners and nonprofit groups secure more than $3.5 million in loans since November 2012. The loans have ranged in size from $100,000 to more than $1 million and have gone to borrowers ranging from small retailers to a charter school.
Patrick Graham, president and CEO of the local Urban League, said the initiative is part of the organization’s bigger mission to serve individuals and families that are sometimes viewed as marginalized. Graham said the program grew out of a 2011 “State of Ethnic Charlotte” study that looked at economic, education, and social justice disparities across various ethnic groups in the eight-county region. One of the primary findings indicated that minority and small business owners in certain communities did not have equal access to capital.
In some instances, Graham said, that economic disparity meant that would-be entrepreneurs could not launch businesses without depleting personal or family resources. In other instances, he said, it meant that existing business owners could not get the money they needed to build capacity in their companies.
Although the Urban League works with several banks to increase lending and strengthen financial literacy, it signed a unique agreement with Carolina Premier, which opened a satellite branch in the Urban League’s uptown office building. Since the Bank of the Urban League of Central Carolinas opened for business less than a year ago, the branch has opened bank accounts for hundreds of individuals who were “unbanked or under-banked,” Graham said.
“This branch is really designed to help business and people become more bankable so that they can become part of the larger banking community,” he said. “A lot of our customers are second-chance customers.”
As for business lending, Graham said his organization has formed an advisory committee to screen loan applicants. When a potential borrower is approved, he said, the committee then serves as an advocate when the loan application is presented to Carolina Premier. So far, Graham said, none of the borrowers referred to the bank has defaulted on a loan. “They’re actually loans that, when you look at their business model, are secure,” he said. “They just needed additional capital that they found hard to get.”
Graham said the loans carry market-based interest rates that are competitive with others in the region.
Local business owner James McCoy Jr. said he went though the process before closing on a loan last week to refinance a commercial building he owns. McCoy said that although he probably could have gotten a similar loan elsewhere, he found the experience “extremely positive,” including the three calls he received from Carolina Premier President and CEO John Kreighbaum.
“I thought that was extremely special and just going above the call of duty,” he said.
Kreighbaum could not be reached for comment last week but said in an earlier interview that his bank tries to take a broader view when evaluating business loans. In addition to looking at the hard numbers, he said, the bank also tries to get a measure of the individuals and companies behind the raw data.
Graham said the partnership with Carolina Premier so far has not resulted in any loans being made to start-ups, but he said he anticipates that will change in the not-too-distant future.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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