Ajo Copper News Features CIC Lending

Alternative financing available for Ajo area businesses

Ajo Copper News branded image

Community Investment Corporation of Tucson’s stated goal is “to promote economic inclusion for all members of southern Arizona, regardless of socioeconomic status.” They say their work “ensures that more people in our community can buy homes, can access the education they want for their children, and can get the funding they need to start, sustain, and grow their small businesses.” CIC (cictucson.org) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 1996.

Brandi Szymanski, CIC’s rural lending manager, came to Ajo last week for the Ajo District Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting to explain more about the many ways some of CIC’s programs may benefit Ajo area individuals and businesses. She said CIC became aware of the recent border closure and its impact on Ajo area businesses and wanted to step in to help. CIC’s three program areas are housing, entrepreneurship, and education. Szymanski’s focus at last week’s meeting was on entrepreneurship, specifically small business financing.

CIC offers low interest alternative financing for business owners who do not qualify for traditional bank loans. Their small business lending program provides access to capital at competitive interest rates with flexible terms and provides lending solutions for organizations of every size. Small business loans are offered in amounts $500-100,000 for 1-5 years at fixed interest rates of 8-10%. Documents required during the application process include establishing a time in business of at least 6 months (though startups may be considered on an exception basis), proof of a business bank account, collateral, proof of business taxes, a profit and loss statement, balance sheet, registered business or trade name, and a credit check (no minimum score is required). If a business is less than two years old, a business plan is required.

Understanding that the process can be daunting, CIC offers flexibility and support during the application process, including assistance in preparing documents. Szymanski emphasized three considerations before seeking funding: how much money is needed, how the money will be spent, and what collateral is available.

In addition to small business lending, CIC offers a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community managed loan fund. The fund offers interest-free microloans of $500-10,000 with a “storytelling-based application.” No documents are required to apply, and support will be provided in preparing documents during the application process. At least 50% of business ownership must identify as BIPOC to be eligible. BIPOC loans require proof of a business bank account, a profit & loss statement, and a registered business or trade name prior to being given funding. Credit checks, collateral, and loan fees are not required, and a business can be in any stage, including startups.

BIPOC exemplifies characterbased lending, an underwriting approach where a borrower’s personal qualities, community reputation, and other factors beyond credit scores and collateral are given greater emphasis. A volunteer committee make decisions regarding the loan fund. Potential borrowers may apply via video or audio as well as in writing.

Brandi Szymanski of Community Investment Corporation was a guest speaker at the Ajo District Chamber of Commerce’s January meeting. CofC director Bo Johnson (left) and Brian Kerr (right) of Z89.3 were among those who attended. Photo courtesy of Ajo Copper News

For either small business or BIPOC loans, and for those who aren’t quite ready for their first loan, CIC offers referrals to business education courses and other resources. The CIC website offers information about starting a business, understanding finances, as well as how loans work.

Szymanski emphasized CIC’s motto “We Know Your Worth” by relaying that CIC is concerned about what’s best for applicants, and that if CIC turns out not to be the best option for someone, CIC will work with an individual to find alternatives.

Following her presentation, she welcomed comments and questions about her organization. Aaron Cooper, executive director of ISDA spoke about how responsive CIC has been to Ajo, having collaborated with ISDA several times in the past. In fact, CIC funds helped keep the Plaza going, he said.

Cristal Franco, Ajo Business Support Center’s manager, told the Ajo Copper News that the business center is considering offering either virtual or in-person office hours to CIC and that “they’ve been a very helpful partner.”

Szymanski encouraged anyone with questions or curiosity about CIC assistance to email her at brandi@cictucson.org or call her at 520-529-1766 extension 216.

Originally published in Ajo Copper News.

$100K investment to help Southern Arizona entrepreneurs of color

Thank you, Growth Partners Arizona for your %100,000 investment in the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund

A $100,000 investment has been made to support at least 10 Southern Arizona small business entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous or people of color.

The investment from the Tucson-based Growth Partners Arizona will be available through the Community Investment Corporation’s BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund.

The no-interest microloans of up to $10,000 are awarded under a character-based lending model, in which a borrower’s personal qualities, community reputation and other factors that go beyond credit scores and collateral are given greater emphasis, a news release said.

The loan fund is two years old, and its volunteer committee of community leaders has the decision-making authority for the loan funding, defining the application process and the criteria used.

Obstacles to capital access for communities of color include distrust of traditional financial institutions, overly complicated application processes, and banking’s over-reliance on collateral and credit scores to make loan approval determinations, the committee found.

Instead, a low-barrier application allows business owners to apply via video, audio or in writing. Only after being approved for a loan are entrepreneurs required to provide financial and business documentation, the news release said.

Over the past two years, the committee has approved more than 50 no-interest microloans in Southern Arizona, totaling nearly $400,000 in funding.

“I think some traditional lenders might be skeptical of our underwriting process,” said CIC Executive Director Danny Knee, “but the performance of our loan portfolio shows that we are on to something with our trust-based approach.”

Growth Partners Arizona, a Community Development Financial Institution, is planning to expand the fund’s community-managed approach statewide, the news release said.

“Investing in the fund is not only important to the community but resonates with me personally,” said Growth Partners Arizona CEO Andre Whittington. “I have witnessed family members and friends lose their businesses due to limited or nonexistent funding opportunities. Through this partnership we are providing real solutions and establishing inclusive financial pathways for BIPOC business owners to secure the capital needed to scale their businesses.”

For more information about the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund, visit tucne.ws/1kzm

Read the original article on Tucson.com.

Funds Available for Small Businesses to Go ‘Green’

by Kimber Lanning, Andre Whittington, and Danny Knee

As our country prepares to spend billions of dollars in new funding on environmental efforts, America is sitting on a gold mine in the fight against climate change, and we need to do something about it.

The opportunity lies with small businesses.

Many small-business owners want to be more environmentally friendly — and all are interested in saving money. Implementing simple changes like LED lights to large projects like installing solar panels can make a big difference to both our planet and businesses’ bottom lines.

The size of the opportunity is huge.

In Arizona, nearly 600,000 companies have fewer than 20 employees; nationwide, it’s more than 26 million. That’s 98% of all U.S. firms.

Barriers to Small Businesses Going ‘Green’

But small-business owners are stretched thin.

They often juggle everything from marketing to purchasing to accounting, duties that corporations have whole teams to handle. Adding “Chief Sustainability Officer” to a small-business owner’s “to-do” list can seem daunting.

Another challenge is the capital to carry out “green” projects.

Rarely do small businesses have a few hundred or thousand dollars to spare for sustainability upgrades, even when the investment will save them as much or more money in the long run.

The new environmental tax incentives offered by the Inflation Reduction Act alone may recover the cost of some projects.

And yet, big banks will laugh a small business out the door for seeking a modest loan “just” to conserve water and energy or require burdensome hoops for the business to jump through.

Boot Camp Helps Businesses Create Plan to Save

Thankfully, there is a solution.

Local First Arizona’s Green Business Boot Camp has helped hundreds of local business owners cut their water, energy, waste and transportation usage by 20% or more with simple adjustments, often leading to thousands of dollars in savings.

For example, Green Business Boot Camp graduate Pines Inn & Suites in Cottonwood is installing motion-sensor thermostats to keep air-conditioning costs down when rooms are vacant.

Phoenix restaurant Duck & Decanter is conserving major amounts of water by putting in low-flow toilets and upgraded kitchen equipment.

And Tucson dessert shop Frozen Delight has turned to recyclable packaging.

Photo credit: Kylee Musslewhite with permission from Frozen Delight

Affordable Loans to Finance the ‘Green’ Transition

In addition to education and support from the boot camp, our Green Business Micro-Loans provide the financial runway for small businesses to afford these changes.

With these loans, boot camp graduates in six Arizona counties can get help paying for sustainability improvements at low-interest rates through a short application process.

In Maricopa and Yavapai counties, the newly launched Green Loan Fund, made possible by Growth Partners Arizona and Vitalyst Health Foundation, provides loans to eligible local businesses up to $10,000 at 3% interest, which businesses pay back entirely with savings generated by their sustainability projects, so their cash flow is uninterrupted.

In Pima County, the Green Community Fund, created in partnership with Community Investment Corporation, provides up to $15,000 at 0–5% interest.

And in Graham, Greenlee and Cochise counties, small businesses can receive loans up to $25,000 at 7% interest through Community Investment Corporation for “green” as well as other projects.

More Funding Needed for Small Businesses to Meet Climate Goals

One of the best things about these micro-loans is how easy they are to obtain.

Whereas traditional banks may require years of financial statements, credit scores and collateral to extend credit, these funds rely on “character-based” lending.

A free energy and water audit conducted by Local First plus an explanation of how the money will be used, the anticipated savings and the local business’ support in the community is all that is asked.

Kevin Ticer, owner of Custom Upholstery Services in Safford, said applying was a snap. “It was easy to go through the micro-loan process,” he said. “After a couple of meetings with the loan committee, I was approved and able to invest in the equipment and remodeling that I needed.”

But loan programs like these need more funding to fully power the shifts small businesses must make in the coming years.

If we don’t invest to help local entrepreneurs become more sustainable, it will cost us all eventually.

Recognizing the motherlode that small businesses hold to achieve progress toward climate goals is the first step for our society. Obtaining more funding — whether from government, private foundations or donors — is our next responsibility.

Kimber Lanning is the CEO of Local First Arizona. Andre Whittington is the executive director of Growth Partners Arizona. Danny Knee is the executive director of Community Investment Corporation.

How a zero-interest loan helped a Black organic farmer put down roots in southern Arizona

Desert Sky Produce in southern Arizona Courtesy of Local First Arizona

When John Benedict drove from Philadelphia to rural southern Arizona five years ago in a van he bought for $1,000 with money saved from eBay sales, he had no intention of becoming a farmer. 

He just knew he wanted to leave city life, and an unfulfilling career in finance, behind.

“I just knew I wanted freedom,” Benedict, 33, said. “I just wanted land and space.”

With the help of the thriving, local agricultural community in Cochise County, Benedict has become the farmer he never thought he’d be, cultivating organic beets, carrots, strawberries, onions, broccoli, cabbage, salad greens, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and more.

And with the help of a novel funding vehicle from Community Investment Corporation, Benedict’s farm, Desert Sky Produce, has been able to grow, turn a profit and inspire him to think bigger.

Community Investment Corporation, a non-profit financial-empowerment organization, is part of Local First Arizona’s AZNavigator, a statewide small-business and entrepreneurship-assistance center. The 10 organizations that comprise AZNavigator provide no-cost assistance to startups and local business owners in Arizona.

“When I moved out here, I was living in a van. It was cold and miserable,” Benedict said, noting he is now organizing a co-op of other small-scale growers. “Without Community Investment Corporation’s funding, this would not even have been remotely possible.”

Simple Conversations Lead To Life-Changing Results

The farming and the funding came together in the most happenstance of ways, beginning with simple conversations. 

On a visit to a local food bank, a local farmer invited Benedict to earn money by helping seed his land. Benedict accepted, and it changed the trajectory of his life.

Organic farmer John Benedict Courtesy of Local First Arizona
Strawberries grown by Desert Sky Produce Courtesy of Local First Arizona

“I never stopped farming, from that moment on,” he said. “It felt like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” 

With that anchor in place, Benedict learned while working, made the most of whatever funds came his way — investing in solar panels, water tanks and pumps — and continued creating connections within his rural community.

‘The World Should Be More Economically Available To Everybody’​

Another of Benedict’s connections at the food bank quite literally paid off.

A woman there directed him to Community Investment Corporation, where he learned about a loan fund for entrepreneurs of color that could help him expand his farm.

As a Black farmer with no capital to use as collateral, Benedict embodied the reason the loan fund was created.

Less than 2% of farmers nationwide are African-American, and studies show Black and minority farmers on average receive less access to credit than white farmers.

Brandi Szymanski, the corporations’s rural lending manager, said the fund was created in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement to provide financial opportunities to all kinds of entrepreneurs from underserved communities.

“The world should be more economically available to everybody,” Szymaski said.

Brandi Szymanski Rural Lending Manager

Creative Approaches To Community Funding​

Carrots grown by Desert Sky Produce Courtesy of Local First Arizona

To receive a zero-interest loan up to $10,000 from Community Investment Corporation, applicants are asked to shoot a video of the work they’re doing and what they hope to accomplish with financial support.

Benedict appreciated the creative approach to the funding application because it meant he wouldn’t be dismissed for not coming to the table with years of financial records. 

“I did my application in my field,” he said. “I literally showed them my field of garlic and onions. It felt amazing showing them that I already had the seeds going.”

Paying it forward to the next small business

With the funding in place, Benedict has started a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative to serve a local rehab facility, plans to open a retail space and is partnering with local schools. All of the work is allowing him to realize his goal of providing healthy foods to people who need it most.

Plus Benedict gets to literally pay his loan forward.

“I love knowing that every month when I make my payment that money is going from me to the next farmer and small business owner,” Benedict said. “And if we really talk about equality, there are different ways to level the playing field. One of them is childhood and prenatal nutrition. So, if we can get healthy and organic food to people who can’t afford it, that’s the mission.”

Szymaski, who recently visited Benedict’s farm, said she was impressed with the progress he has made. His success, she said, is exactly why she loves doing the work she does. 

“He’s thriving,” she said, recalling her visit to Benedict’s farm. “This is really social work. It’s lending, but we’re not a bank.”

Greens grown by Desert Sky Produce Courtesy of Local First Arizona

Buy produce from Desert Sky Organic’s new co-op at 9110 N. Highway 191, McNeal, AZ, call (520) 200-0549 or visit www.thelocalcoopaz.com.

Learn more about Community Investment Corporation’s low-interest lending for rural and underserved communities here.

Learn more about AZNavigator’s free assistance for Arizona small businesses here.

Read the original article on Local First Arizona.

Tucson Information Technology Alliance

Cybersecurity Skills Training to Underserved Seeking Jobs in Booming Industry

CIC is excited to be a part of the Tucson Information Technology Alliance, a partnership between Tucson-based tech accelerator Go For VerticalTransmosis Corporation, and CIC offering underserved adults in the Tucson area an opportunity to train for high-growth information technology careers. The scholarships are provided thanks to an Economic & Workforce Development Grant awarded to the Tucson Information Technology Skills Alliance by the City of Tucson. 

The Alliance’s intensive information technology training program will be offered to residents of the Tucson area with a focus on the unemployed, underserved, minorities, veterans, and low-wage career changers. 

Using a proprietary virtual training model created by Transmosis, a nationally-recognized cybersecurity workforce developer, the program enables applicants to become rapidly trained in employer-driven information technology skills that can lead to industry certifications and employment. 

“The need for a highly trained, agile and robust technology workforce is evident in Tucson, where talent is often imported into the region rather than focusing on development of the local workforce. Meeting this demand for qualified local IT professionals can change that trend, and is crucial for attracting and keeping businesses with continued job and wage growth,” says Edward Cruz, CEO of Go For Vertical. 

Tucson has witnessed a booming 90 percent growth in technology jobs and a 29 percent growth in tech job wages over the last several years. However, employers continue to struggle to fill the open positions with local qualified candidates, according to Tucson Business Insider

Tucson Information Technology Skills Alliance Partners

Transmosis is a nationally recognized cybersecurity workforce developer that enables American workers to develop new careers in the rapidly growing information security industry. Transmosis is the creator of transmosisONE, a Fortune 5000 cybersecurity platform designed to protect small businesses/SMBs from cyber attack with integrated cyber liability coverage.

Go For Vertical is a Tucson-based technology and venture accelerator with a mission to help the Southern Arizona region develop a robust innovation ecosystem. With a focus on startups, nonprofits and enterprise clients, G4V has grown from a small group based in Tucson to an expanded team of over 100 consultants and engineers based both in the US and overseas delivering global technology and business solutions.  

BIPOC Loan Inaugural Recipients Announced

CIC couldn’t be more thrilled to announce the business owners selected to participate in the first ever BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund! This fund was carefully designed to serve Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs in Southern Arizona with 0% interest microloans, ranging from $500 to $10,000.

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Supporting Innovation in Education

Over $600,000 in seed funding will be awarded through A for Arizona’s Expansion and Innovation Fund, including the Pima IDA’s gift, empowering innovative school and community leaders, teachers, and families to implement their bold ideas for reimagining learning models, creating and scaling more student-focused programs, and developing better teaching and learning educational approaches. Applications are being accepted for this grant funding June 3 – July 8 at noon.

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StartupTucson IdeaFunding Award Winners

Idea Funding

IdeaFunding, led by our friends at Startup Tucson & Arizona Commerce Authority, was held on April 15, 2021. It was a day-long digital entrepreneurial experience including Southern Arizona’s largest pitch competition, inspirational community Resiliency Awards, and powerful thought-leaders.

Adelante Award

CIC was honored to sponsor the Adelante Award. An award that supports diverse founders, such as women-owned and BIPOC-owned companies.

Originally intended to be one $5,000 award, CIC was so impressed by two founders’ pitches that we just had to support both! 

Learn more and support these powerhouse entrepreneurs:

Obánj

Obánj is a monthly subscription service that lets you borrow designer and artisan jewelry from designers like Oscar de la Renta and Balenciaga. Depending on your Membership Plan, you can borrow one, two, or three pieces of jewelry per month.

Ku' Panda Skincare

Ku’Panda is a high quality experience with affordable prices. Herbs, Actives and Potent Botanicals hydrate, brighten and treat skin. Our products are kissed by Tucson with wildcrafted herbs sourced by local herbalists. Active ingredients are strategically used to guarantee you results backed by science.

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