Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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SOAR Loans Help Florida Small Businesses Succeed  & Recover From the Pandemic

Indira Cristin with caption: SOAR helped Indira Cristin's Bettersweet Vegan Bakery be successful in Miami
Fhoto via Ascendus  |  Columbia County Observer graphic

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida small businesses looking for financial help often have limited options, but there is a new opportunity for assistance.

A group of community lenders created the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund (SOAR), to help small companies and nonprofits recover from the impacts of the pandemic. SOAR loans are available up to $100,000, with an interest rate fixed at 4%, much lower than traditional loans. They're available through lenders known as Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

Fabiana Estrada, Southeast region director of lending for Ascendus, explained the program's goal.

"Our mission as a CDFI is to provide capital for those small business owners that are not bankable, that are not ready to be having a conversation with a traditional lender," Estrada outlined.

Read more about Indira Cristin's Bettersweet Vegan Bakery.

Businesses must have fewer than 50 employees to qualify for a SOAR loan, and must also have been in operation prior to September 2019. The fund has $30 million available, and because demand is high, Estrada predicts the money will likely be used up by year's end.

David Stackhouse, owner of Positive Energy Battery Company in Jacksonville, which has benefited from a SOAR loan, said working with a Community Development Financial Institution has its advantages.

"They actually want to do business with me," Stackhouse emphasized. "I'm a small company and so, qualifying for financing and lending, even through my local, trusted banking partners, it wasn't going to happen."

SOAR loans can be used for a variety of purposes including marketing, supplies, and payment of property taxes, utilities and rent.

"With supply chain issues being what they were -- I sell all kinds of batteries all over the United States -- I could not experience a shortage in supply," Stackhouse stressed. "So, the first thing I used the funds for was to carry my own inventory."

Financing is available in 15 southern states, and 80% of past SOAR Fund loan recipients identify as women or persons of color.

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