Unique Bank-Nonprofit Partnership Funds New Businesses


A unique relationship between the 1st Southwest Bank and a sister community fund provides loans to entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to obtain a loan to start a business. Sponsored by Downs, McDonough, Cowan and Foley, LLC and TruWest Auto

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Durango resident Jenni Gross was out of work for more than eight months after the building where she leased space for her business, The Soup Palette, was sold to a new owner, and she was forced to close. Today she operates out of a food truck she was able to purchase through a unique lending partnership between the First Southwest Bank and its sister non-profit. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by TruWest Auto in Cortez and Durango and the law firms of Downs, McDonough, Cowan, and Foley. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. Literally, hundreds of entrepreneurs in Southern Colorado have been able to start or expand their businesses thanks to a unique partnership between the First Southwest Bank and its sister non-profit, the First Southwest Community Fund. What's so unique is that First Southwest started the non-profit fund when the bank was designated a community development financial institution by the United States Treasury in 2015, one of only two such institutions in Colorado. The designation allows the bank to use both private and public dollars to provide access to credit and financial services to underserved communities like those in rural Southwest Colorado.

Our whole focus is inclusive and equitable access to capital. So we support small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs across rural Colorado, focusing on the Southern and Southwestern counties. We are a non-traditional lender. We work alongside the bank, but the First Southwest Community Fund is a non-profit, so there's a lot of additional resources we can help folks access.

First Southwest Bank originally established the community fund to accept a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then, the fund's assets have grown to $15 million, money that has been used to provide low-interest loans, grants, and technical assistance to hundreds of businesses from the San Luis Valley to the Four Corners. It manages nearly a dozen grant and revolving loan programs for business owners and entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to obtain a conventional loan.

So, while the community fund only does loans up to 250,000, we can often catalyze funding needs that are up to a million, 1.5 million. So we act basically as risk-mitigating capital a lot of the time, which enable some of these community assets or businesses, that wouldn't otherwise be able to get funding from a traditional lender, be able to get access.

During the pandemic, the community fund established the Innovate Onwards Program to provide businesses with low-interest loans for working capital to rehire staff, upgrade equipment, or purchase inventory. Another program, the Creative Arts Fund, provides low-interest loans for up to $15,000 to artists and arts businesses to purchase materials, establish a gallery, or even an online presence. More recently, the community established a food truck loan fund to help entrepreneurs affordably enter the food industry.

You know, the idea of having a food truck loan fund really started with COVID, something that's truly impacted us, our communities, especially the food industry. So one of the things that we looked at was kind of finding that need of folks that are wanting to start a food business. How can they make it accessible and save in a little bit more affordable than a brick and mortar site? So that's kind of what started the food truck loan fund.

Soup and sandwich entrepreneur, Jenni Gross, said that obtaining a conventional loan to purchase a food truck was out of the question after using up all of her savings during eight months of unemployment. But the First Southwest Foundation provided her with the capital to revive The Soup Pallet in a food truck and to hire two part-time employees.

The year I sold my equipment and everything with the building, I thought I was going to get a food truck then. Well, things just didn't work out then. My house sold that same time, lot of family things. So it took a year after, and it was during the COVID. And so, the community fund was the only resource I had to obtain a food truck loan.

You can find The Soup Pallet truck at the former Cyprus Cafe patio on 2nd Ave. in Durango. For more information about the First Southwest Bank and the First Southwest Community Fund, visit fswb.com. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.


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