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.

BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund Celebrates Two Years of Impact and Expands Partnerships with Growth Partners Arizona and Startup Tucson

Two years after launching an innovative loan fund in collaboration with leaders of color in the Tucson business community, Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Community Managed Loan Fund are celebrating their 50th no-interest loan. The fund, which focuses on improving capital access to entrepreneurs of color, has made over $400,000 in loans to date across Southern Arizona.

The celebration also marks an expansion of two key partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, Growth Partners Arizona and Startup Tucson. For its part, Startup Tucson is creating the first paid position for what has, to date, been an all-volunteer management committee, while Growth Partners Arizona will be expanding the fund’s lending footprint in 2024 to central and northern Arizona through a $250,000 grant from Wells Fargo. The expansion will include targeted outreach to rural BIPOC entrepreneurs.

Growth Partners Arizona, a certified Community Development Financial Institution, recently invested $100,000 in the BIPOC Loan Fund to serve southern Arizona and have now committed another $250,000 to expand the fund’s lending footprint to the entire state. The $250,000 comes from a grant from Wells Fargo and supports the bank’s work to accelerate the growth of underserved small businesses across the country through investments that increase access to capital, expand entrepreneurial networks, and provide access to knowledge through technical assistance and capacity building resources.

This investment is a part of our larger focus to expand innovative lending programs throughout the state of Arizona. Thanks to the funding from our partners at Wells Fargo we will be able to start the new year off making a significant investment within our rural communities. As we look ahead to the future we are excited to continue to build towards a more inclusive economy.

Startup Tucson, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to revolutionize the Southern Arizona region’s economy through entrepreneurship and innovation, is committing part of the time of their Director of Entrepreneur Success and Access to Capital, Keneshia Raymond, to helping expand the fund’s impact. Raymond is a founding committee member of the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund and will become the BIPOC Loan Fund’s first funded staff person.

Raymond will play a pivotal role in spearheading this initiative and expanding its reach, resources, and impact. Raymond will collaborate closely with CIC to develop comprehensive strategies, promote awareness, secure funding, and provide strong leadership to ensure the BIPOC Loan Fund’s continued growth and sustainability.

Startup Tucson recognizes the pressing need within the community for equitable and accessible access to capital for BIPOC business owners. “At Startup Tucson we champion the BIPOC Loan Fund and wholeheartedly support its mission to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs and foster a more inclusive and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.” said Raymond. Raymond background includes 14 years as an entrepreneur and business coach who, in addition to her duties at Startup Tucson, runs her own online company, has raised over $8 million of investment for small businesses, and successfully exited a previous business.

“Keneshia’s experience as an entrepreneur and her leadership within the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund has been truly exceptional,” said CIC’s Executive Director, Danny Knee. “She is forward-thinking with a vision to activate the sidelined economic power of underrepresented entrepreneurs within our community whose businesses have suffered from underinvestment.”

The BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund is an example of character-based lending, an underwriting approach through which a borrower’s personal qualities, community reputation, and other factors beyond credit scores and collateral are given greater emphasis. Its volunteer committee of BIPOC community leaders has complete authority over the loan fund including defining the application process and underwriting criteria to assess loan viability. In the loan product design phase, the committee identified specific obstacles to capital access for BIPOC communities which included distrust of the traditional financial institutions, overly complicated application processes, and banking’s over-reliance on collateral and credit scores to make loan approval determinations. A low-barrier application allows business owners to apply via video or audio as well as in writing.

“One of the largest challenges for entrepreneurs, especially BIPOC entrepreneurs, in our region is access to capital,” said said Liz Pocock, CEO, Startup Tucson. “The trailblazing work of CIC and the BIPOC Loan Fund strengthens our economy, and we couldn’t be prouder to call them a partner and support the future longevity of the Fund and its mission.”

As the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund continues to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable business landscape, this partnership with Startup Tucson reinforces the collective commitment to driving positive change and advancing economic empowerment in Southern Arizona. On Friday, September 15th, CIC and Startup Tucson will be hosting a 2 year Celebration of the BIPOC Loan Fund Celebration at Hotel McCoy from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Festivities will include acknowledging the programs’ milestones and partnerships, amplifying the talent and hard work of program participants, and connecting within our community.

For more information about the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund and its partnership with Startup Tucson and Growth Partners Arizona, please visit the program website, here.

About CIC: Community Investment Corporation (CIC) is a financial empowerment nonprofit. We give the members of our community, who are shut out of and left behind in our economy, access to the knowledge and financing they need to pursue new opportunities. CIC unlocks the door to prosperity for all members of our community to meaningfully participate in our powerful but imperfect capitalist economic system and reclaim the American Dream. At CIC, WE KNOW YOUR WORTH. The system may not recognize your value, but we do. Learn more about our loan, homeownership, and school bond compliance programs at CICTucson.org.

About Startup Tucson: Startup Tucson is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform our region’s economy through entrepreneurship and innovation. Startup Tucson executes this mission by providing education and culture-building programs and events to grow a high-impact entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. You can find information about the organization and upcoming opportunities to engage at startuptucson.com.

About Growth Partners Arizona: About Growth Partners Arizona Growth Partners Arizona is the largest Black-led Arizona-based CDFI that provides affordable, responsible financial products to local underserved communities. As a trusted intermediary between the public and private sectors, Growth Partner Arizona aims to achieve economic justice through forward thinking, collaborative, and inclusive approaches to capital access in Arizona. We are committed to building a more inclusive economy that works for everyone. For more information visit: growthpartnersaz.org.

$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.

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.

Regal Fierce Media Wins BBB Award

Regal Fierce Media team at the 2023 Better Business Bureau Torch Awards

Regal Fierce Media Wins Spark Award from the Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Arizona

Regal Fierce Media team at the 2023 Better Business Bureau Torch Awards

Community Investment Corporation (CIC) is thrilled to announce and celebrate the extraordinary success of Regal Fierce Media as the recipient of the Spark Award from the Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Arizona! The Spark Award recognizes businesses who embody Character, Culture, and Community in their work. Earning this achievement serves as a testament to Regal Fierce Media’s unwavering commitment to providing excellent service to Tucson businesses. 

“Being the 2023 Winners of the Spark Award makes us feel empowered! For us to be recognized as millennial entrepreneurs for our dedication, passion, and creativity to our clients fuels our souls,” said CEO of Regal Fierce Media, Katrina Calderon.

Regal Fierce Media is a Tucson-based media company and advertising agency that Calderon founded in 2019. CIC was able to support Regal Fierce Media through the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund.

“CIC’s BIPOC loan played a huge part in our growth,” said Calderon. “They [CIC] helped us with funding when no other bank would. Not only did they look at our financials, but they let us tell our story. We are here today because CIC believed in our vision. With their loan, we upgraded our equipment and reached higher-level clients, leading to our business’s continued growth.”

Calderon’s commitment to giving back to the Tucson community began in her youth. While working at Youth On Their Own (YOTO), Calderon learned how the nonprofit worked to provide dignity and resources to Tucson’s underserved adolescent population. It was this experience that inspired Calderon to use her skills to give back to the community.

It’s no surprise Regal Fierce Media is being recognized for their character. “They are talented and driven, but as importantly, they work with incredible integrity and kindness – qualities too often undervalued in the competitive landscape of business,” said CIC Executive Director Danny Knee.

Receiving the 2023 Spark Award is a full circle moment for Regal Fierce Media. “Last year, when we were event photographers for the BBB Torch Awards, we told ourselves that we would be up there accepting an award one day,” said Calderon. “And here we are, walking the stage as the 2023 Spark Award winners.”

Learn more about Regal Fierce Media and book them for your advertising and media needs at regalfiercemedia.com

2022 In Review

Celebrating our biggest year yet!

What a year it has been indeed!

While it feels nearly impossible to condense an entire year into one newsletter, we couldn’t close 2022 without taking a look back at the highlights from this year.

Join us in celebrating CIC’s biggest year to date, and we’re just getting started!

A national leader in eviction prevention

Over the course of 2 years, we were involved in a collaborative effort to administer federal funding to prevent evictions related to the economic impact of the pandemic throughout all of Pima County. As one of the most efficient programs in the nation, CIC and our partners facilitated disbursement of all of the City of Tucson’s ERA 1 and ERA 2 funds, as well as more than $22.5 million of additional reallocated funding from the state. In June of this year, we transitioned the Eviction Prevention Program to Pima County.

Since the start of the program we distributed $64+ million in rental and utility funding, assisted over 13,500 households, landlords and helped 30,000 residents remain in housing.

We owe much of the success of the program to our dedicated and willing community partners. Private, public and nonprofit sectors as well as private citizens came together selflessly to care for one another in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Thank you: City of TucsonFamily Housing Resources, Sunnyside Foundation, Catholic Community Services, ISDA, Tucson Urban League, Inc., Primavera Foundation, International Rescue Committee, Interfaith Community Services, Chicanos Por La CausaValley Assistance Services and Compass Affordable Housing.

Read our IMPACT REPORT

Expanded the Mortgage Credit Certificate program statewide

For 30+ years, the Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) program has been administered by CIC, and its sister organization, Family Housing Resources. The program reduces the cost of owning a home by allowing first-time homebuyers to claim up to $2,000 of their annual mortgage interest as a federal tax credit – each year and every year they live in their homes. This means that MCC’s can save homeowners up to $50,000+ over the life of their mortgages!

CIC has issued 7,000+ certificates to date, saving Arizona homeowners millions of dollars and this year, we expanded the program statewide! We look forward to empowering future homeowners throughout the state of Arizona. Check out this short video that explains how this important program works.

Learn more at: cictucson.org/mcc

The BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund for Small Business Owners continues to grow!

Since launching the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund program, we’ve received 100+ applications, with requests for $700,000+ to help long underserved entrepreneurs of color in Southern Arizona grow their businesses and thrive. 

We were thrilled to share that in 2022 we fundraised over $100,000 to support this program. The revolving fund that started with just $2,700 in donations from CIC’s own staff  now sits at $380,000 and has helped 26 small businesses in Southern Arizona.

This funding is critical to our mission’s success and helped us get closer to our goal of building the fund to $1 million by 2025.

Check out this short video to learn more about this program.

CIC Tucson was named Social Impact Champion of the Year!

We were honored to be recognized by the selection committee of the Tucson Metro Chamber Copper Cactus Awards as this year’s TEP Social Impact Copper Cactus Champion. This is the second time in three years, CIC has earned this recognition and it is one of the only times that a nonprofit has been honored with a Copper Cactus Award three years in a row (we were named the regions Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Champion in 2021 for the launch of our BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund).

While we don’t do this work for the awards, this was a special moment to stop and celebrate everyone who has contributed to making our programs worthy of recognition; most notably, the community’s best and most accomplished social service agencies who partnered with us for the Eviction Prevention program. Thank you to the City of TucsonFamily Housing Resources, Sunnyside Foundation, Catholic Community Services, ISDA, Tucson Urban League, Inc., Primavera Foundation, International Rescue Committee, Interfaith Community Services, Chicanos Por La CausaValley Assistance Services and Compass Affordable Housing

This program would not have been possible without the deep commitment of the highly skilled staff at the nonprofit organizations & government entities.

2022 brought an amazing year of success and impact for CIC, none of which would have been possible without the collaboration and support of trusted partners. We resolve to fill the coming year with opportunities and prosperity for all residents of Southern Arizona.

– Danny Knee and the CIC Team

Shop Local

Support Your Community by Supporting Small Businesses

If you give gifts for the winter holidays, now is the time to get serious about shopping!

Small Business Saturday is this weekend and CIC has put together a feature of local businesses (owned by people in Tucson!) that you can consider for your events and gifts.

Check out our recommendations below!

***Special Note: If you are interested in baked goods from Song & Sugar Sweets or Sydney’s Sweet Shoppe, contact them ASAP! Bakery calendars fill up fast during this season!

Baked Goods

Song & Sugar Sweets

Sydney’s Sweet Shoppe

Plant-Based

Healthful Flowers

Fungirl’s Fungi

Home Improvement

Originate Natural Building Materials

Fashion and Apparel

Iwona Ash

Fraqtals

Fitness

Kinetic Arts Tucson

Media and Marketing

Regal Fierce Media

Jewelry

Wayne Locke

BIPOC Loan Fund Is Now OPEN!

We are excited to announce that the BIPOC Community Managed Loan Fund is now OPEN!   

This is a truly one-of-a-kind fund where BIPOC (black, indigenous people of color) business owners in Southern Arizona can apply for 0% interest loans, ranging from $500 to $10,000 and 5-year terms.    

This fund gives access to business owners who are often left behind by traditional economic resources, and our goal is to provide economic power and collective wealth for this underserved community.  

And, the most important part, all loan decisions are made by a committee of BIPOC business owners and community leaders! 

Applications opened Friday July 1, 2022 and we’ve made some changes to the loan this year. 

We’re excited to announce that this loan has shifted into a REVOLVING loan fun! This means the fund is open all year round! No need to rush and apply. We want to make sure that these resources are available when your business needs them.

We are holding an info session Wednesday, July 13 for you to learn more and get your questions answered. RSVP below:  

* recording will be sent to registrants 

Please share this valuable resource with your community, especially BIPOC business owners in Southern Arizona!

This fund was founded by the community FOR our community.  Thank you to our amazing partners – blaxfridayStartup TucsonTEPCoxBBVAWomen’s Foundation for the State of ArizonaUnited Way of Southern ArizonaYWCA Southern Arizona, and Tucson Metro Chamber

We hope to see you there!

– CIC Team and the BIPOC Loan Fund Committee