Just last year, Zach Johnson of rural Hughesville, Missouri, was a laborer with a part-time side gig trimming trees. Today, the 24-year-old is owner of Johnson’s Tree Service, a full-service firm with three employees and a growing list of customers in and around the Missouri towns of Sedalia, Marshall and Warsaw.
Zach was able to make the shift from worker to business owner thanks to a new microenterprise-financing effort focused on rural communities.
The START HERE Revolving Loan Fund serves rural people who have the skills and determination to make it but who lack the credit history and business track record they need to get traditional financing from a bank.
The START HERE Business Acceleration Network
Operated by the community development corporation New Growth, the loan fund is part of a larger collaborative effort by New Growth and rural resource partners called the START HERE Business Acceleration Network.
This group developed the loan fund to prime the rural-economy pump; it provides the microenterprise financing needed to build the pipeline of bankable businesses that rural communities need to grow. Since March 2021, its first year in microenterprise lending, New Growth has financed 23 rural businesses, including 12 new businesses.
New Growth currently focuses its lending in west central Missouri and neighboring rural Kansas counties. Its New Growth Women’s Business Center serves rural men and women and covers 13 Missouri counties (Barton, Bates, Benton, Camden, Cedar, Dade, Dallas, Henry, Hickory, Morgan, Polk, St. Clair, and Vernon) and two Kansas counties (Crawford and Bourbon). New Growth is an affiliate of West Central Missouri Community Action Agency.
Seizing business opportunity
Zach Johnson worked with START HERE resource partner, the Missouri Small Business Development Center at State Fair Community College, to build a business plan around significant opportunity he saw for a tree service company in his mid-Missouri area. Only one other company operates nearby, and it handles commercial, not residential, jobs.
Johnson said he was ready to take charge of his future as an entrepreneur after working as a laborer.
“I was tired of working for other people,” he says. “I knew I needed to figure out what I wanted to go into because you have to enjoy it.”
New Growth Loan Fund Manager Michelle Smith was his loan officer. Johnson needed to buy a key piece of equipment, a skid steer, to turn ready customers and opportunity into a growing business and good jobs.
Smith said she knew he could turn it around because he already had jobs booked out for nearly a year. She was doubly sure when he submitted all of his loan paperwork within a week.
“He was so thorough,” she says. “It was really impressive.”
Johnson currently employs three people. He paid off his five-year loan in five months.
On the way to the bank
Kelly Asbury, State Fair’s Missouri SBDC director, said the microenterprise START HERE revolving loan fund has been the missing piece for many of her clients. Based in Sedalia, Missouri, Asbury serves 13 mostly rural counties.
“There are times when you know in your gut that this entrepreneur is going to be a rock star, but then you can’t get them financing. It’s really tough,” she says. “We’re talking about projects that are going to cash flow; the owner has the experience to make the business happen … but they don’t have the collateral or the credit they need to move forward with bank financing.”
Johnson’s Tree Service is now building the business track record, financials, credit and collateral that traditional bank financing requires. That is the job of microenterprise financing.
New Growth and START HERE partners are building a pipeline of bankable rural businesses with the technical assistance and early-stage capital they need to get going and growing. Those businesses are, in turn, fueling development of their small communities by producing goods and services, like tree trimming, that rural people need and want.
Resources for your business
is a regional community development corporation affiliated with West Central Missouri Community Action Agency. It is home to the START HERE Business Acceleration Network, the START HERE Revolving Loan Fund, and the New Growth Women’s Business Center. Learn more at https://www.newgrowthmo.org/
West Central Missouri Community Action Agency
is dedicated to empowering people to make a positive change by coordinating and administering resources. Programs include housing, emergency services, energy conservation, employment and training, and credit building. West Central’s service region includes the counties of Cass, Bates, Benton, Cedar, Henry, Hickory, Morgan, St. Clair, and Vernon. Learn more at https://wcmcaa.org/
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