Press Release


San Francisco, CA | Apr 22, 2013

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Bank of the West Charitable Foundation Announces Economic Development Support for Micro-Entrepreneurs

Bank of the West Charitable Foundation today announced that it is supporting small business development by awarding $195,000 for "micro-loans" to three community economic development organizations in Fresno, Omaha and Kansas City, Mo.

"We recognize that access to credit for small businesses, particularly in under-resourced communities, can play an important role in supporting the economic viability of a community," said Dian Quinn, Bank of the West's Community Affairs manager. "By investing in local entrepreneurs, we're also supporting the dreams of future business owners who envision a better life and more opportunities for themselves and their families."

Organizations receiving the awards for Program Related Investment (PRI) are Fresno Community Development Financial Institution, Catholic Charities of Omaha and Hispanic Economic Development Corporation.  

Combined, the three funded organizations have offered approximately 200 micro-loans over the last three years to local start-ups as well as business owners who may have needed a credit infusion to support their existing business. Recipients come from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of business experience.  The economic development organizations also provide support and counseling in improving credit and with business practices that will help these entrepreneurs expand their businesses. 

Empowering Good Business Ideas  
Fresno Community Development Financial Institution (Fresno CDFI) has been awarded a $100,000 Program Related Investment (PRI) to enhance its work in Fresno and Tulare counties in California's central valley. 

An example of the CDFI micro-loans recipients is Mario Navarro, a veteran who lost his job during the recession. He built the foundation for a new career and his own business by concentrating on advancing his military and law enforcement experience.  He worked as a firearms and security guard instructor and became certified to train others wanting to enter the security industry. Mario's aspirations grew.  He envisioned a training center to help veterans put their military experience to work and become trained security guards.  Yet because of his past credit issues, Mario was unable to obtain a bank loan. Fresno CDFI was encouraged by Mario's tenacity, strong business plan and mission to help other veterans find jobs. CDFI extended Mario a micro-loan to furnish a classroom and buy training equipment and other supplies. Today, his business - the National Justice Training Center in Fresno - not only provides training for veterans, it also offers courses for the public in handgun safety, self-defense and first aid.

Small Business, Community Development
Catholic Charities of Omaha runs a Microbusiness Training and Development Program for under-served entrepreneurs in the economically challenged southeast and northeast areas of Omaha.  The variety of businesses helped by the micro-loans range from bakeries, grocery stores and interpreting services to construction and landscaping firms.  Bank of the West Charitable Foundation awarded Catholic Charities a $60,000 Program Related Investment.

A Catholic Charities of Omaha success story includes Juan Carlos Aguilera, who came to the United States knowing nothing about running a business. After attending the Microbusiness program at Catholic Charities, he felt encouraged to start his own business. With the program's technical assistance and a micro-loan, he was able to apply his knowledge and skills to start Impress Digital, now providing the South Omaha business community with posters, signs and business cards. He also offers printing and embroidery to individuals. 

"This year Mr. Aguilera was able to obtain a loan from a bank, which indicates the success of the program to help people to become bankable," said John Griffith, executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha. Another indication of success, Griffith said, is that Juan Carlos now volunteers his own time by teaching basic computer classes to participants of the Catholic Charities Microbusiness program. 

Supporting Entrepreneurs and Job Creation
In Kansas City, Mo., Hispanic Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) provides bilingual planning, support and technical assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs who do not have access to business development resources.  HEDC loans range from $1,400 to $10,000 and are used for equipment purchases, inventory, and/or services in business ranging from small manufacturing and construction firms to auto mechanic shops, restaurants and hair salons.  While primarily urban businesses, some of HEDC's applicants are rural businesses. HEDC was awarded a $35,000 Program Related Investment.

HEDC clients Richard and Heather Garza had a goal of starting a business and getting off disability, a challenge for Richard, a wheelchair-bound salesman, and Heather, a legally blind cook.  A hobby they started in 1996 provided an opportunity for a full-time business venture:  handmade chocolates and sweets.  With technical assistance, financial counseling and a small business loan from HEDC, the couple was able to open Garza's Goodies in June 2012.

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