KAMLS And GROW Grow Together

July 16, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent Area MicroBusinesss Loan Services (KAMLS) has left its Fulton Street offices at the Masonic Temple building for the YWCA building a few blocks west.

KAMLS, in fact, moved to 25 Sheldon St. SE last month to share second-floor office space with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).

“Actually we are combining service with GROW,” said Thad VanHaitsma, KAMLS executive director.

“We’re still separate entities, but we’re now the one-stop location for a number of services.”

He explained that even prior to combining their facilities, KAMLS and GROW often worked closely together.

Along with many other organizations, GROW was a founding member of the KAMLS, and its director has always held a spot on the KAMLS board of directors.

KAMLS has long offered its onsite resources — including the SBA Business Information Center (BIC) and research workstations — to GROW, while GROW has offered counseling and educational assistance to KAMLS clients.

Each office had habitually referred clients to the other office four blocks away.

“It’s a lot easier to be in the same office,” VanHaitsma said.

“We don’t have to tell people how to get from here to there, and all of our resources are in the same place. They can come to the BIC and do research. GROW helps with the counseling of our clients. It’s working out great. They can make one appointment to see both of us.”

KAMLS is a nonprofit, community-based economic development corporation with a coalition of over 30 organizations, including banks, nonprofits, educational institutions and governmental offices. It provides small business loans and technical assistance to what are termed “pre-bankable” companies.

“Pre-bankable” refers to companies denied funding through conventional means. Usually these are either start-up businesses or fledgling companies that have yet to make enough revenue to convince a lender they are a solid investment.

The KAMLS provides capital funding to these companies of up to $30,000 for eligible Kent County located firms with 10 or fewer employees through the Small Business Administration (SBA), and $15,000 for eligible Grand Rapids-based firms with five or fewer employees through the city of Grand Rapids Community Development Block Grant.

GROW has often referred clients in need of capital funding to the KAMLS, as well as those needing research and clerical resources to the BIC.

The BIC partners with Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business and Fifth Third Bank to provide high-tech hardware, software and telecommunications to new and expanding businesses.

At the BIC, clients can perform research, print fliers and business cards, or receive advice and counseling.

GROW is also a nonprofit economic development organization. Its mission is to help women develop skills and acquire knowledge needed to achieve economic independence through self-employment.

Although women constitute its primary client base, GROW also offers its services to men.

One of the largest components of GROW’s program is training and education. GROW has long used BIC’s resources in its programs and KAMLS has often referred BIC clients to GROW classes.

“What we’ve found is that many of the clients that come to the BIC are really in the beginning stages of forming a business,” GROW director of development Pamela Bayes explained.

“We often fit their long-term needs better with our classes. We’re pleased with the collaboration; it’s working out nicely for both of us.”

While GROW refers clients with lending needs to the KAMLS, it does have an asset development program of its own.

For eligible applicants, Individual Development Accounts provide a means of savings and subsidy for capital purchases. Clients save toward an asset goal, with the IDA matching the client’s savings at a ratio of 1:1 or 1:2.

Once the client reaches that goal, GROW will write the check to the asset vendor. Not only does the program provide needed business equipment to under-funded businesses, but it also fosters lending qualifications by establishing credit and collateral assets.     

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