Small businesses in rural North Bay communities looking for financing are about to get a boost.
Working Solutions (workingsolutions.org), a microlending agency with offices in San Francisco and San Rafael, is aiming to provide 120 loans throughout the Bay Area in 2016 for low-income, women and minority business owners. That includes 15 loans each in Sonoma and Marin counties, and 10 in Napa.
Wells Fargo Bank has provided support for Working Solutions for the past 15 years and recently presented them with a $50,000 check to help launch a new initiative, the Rural Investment for Sustainable Economies (RISE), with the goal of providing capital and consulting services to help start and expand rural businesses throughout the North Bay.
“Wells Fargo understands the importance of small businesses to help generate job growth and build a vibrant local economy,” said Ashoo Vaid, the bank’s North Bay area president. “This grant will go a long way to help strengthen Working Solutions’ efforts to provide business consulting services to entrepreneurs in rural communities.”
Since 2005, the nonprofit has issued about 29 loans to small businesses in Sonoma, the majority of those within the last two years. Working Solutions provides loans to entrepreneurs for $5,000–$50,000, with the majority of those around $24,000. Brand new businesses typically borrow $5,000–$10,000. It functions as a credit-building loan, to be able to eventually access a bank loan.
Since 2014, Working Solutions has provided over $600,000 in loans to Sonoma County small businesses — 48 percent of which went to female entrepreneurs and 83 percent to low-or-moderate income entrepreneurs. Those businesses based include Hip Chick Farms, Firefly Chocolate, Sonoma Gymnastics, Nexo Advertising and Mama Tina’s Ravioli.
While their only office in the North Bay area in San Rafael, Working Solutions partners with the Sonoma Economic Development Board along to reach out to farther flung communities in Sonoma County. It also provides every business with resources, workshops, mentoring, and business coaching program and networking opportunities for five years.
“Access to capital for entrepreneurs through programs like Working Solutions helps meet one of the primary needs for Sonoma County businesses to start, grow, and expand here,” said Sonoma County Economic Development Board Executive Director Ben Stone.
Working Solutions started in 1999 as a workforce development program under the auspices of TMC Financing. As a nonprofit, it received funding from the federal government’s CDFI, the Small Business Administration, and Corporate Grants. To date it has granted 341 loans, totaling $8.5 million with a 96 percent repayment rate.
“Our current North Bay small business clients are such a unique mix of industries and experience — and we love to see the impact that they have on job growth and economic development in this region,” said Laurie O’Hara (firstname.lastname@example.org), Working Solutions director of business development. “We’re so excited to be able to connect more small businesses with resources and continue to build community through our work.”