Federal loan program helping local small businesses
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Dec 24, 2013 | 3487 views |  0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Scott James, senior lending officer at Cheaha Bank in Oxford, goes over a loan application in his office on Tuesday. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Scott James, senior lending officer at Cheaha Bank in Oxford, goes over a loan application in his office on Tuesday. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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Sheri Foster expected a long, tedious process to acquire a bank loan to expand her farm. Then she learned about a federal loan program specifically designed for small businesses.

After a few short months, Foster is ready to expand.

"It didn't take very long, it was pretty easy," Foster said of the loan process.

Foster, owner of Black Creek Quail Farm outside of Gadsden, is one of several area business owners who have received help in their expansion efforts this year through the U.S. Department of Treasury's State Small Business Credit Initiative.

Since the initiative's inception in 2010, Alabama businesses have received $20.7 million in assistance, a Treasury Department report released last week states. The report adds that Alabama has received 66 percent of its total allotment through the program. The government created the program as a way to spur job creation and economic growth across the country.

In total, $1.5 billion has been loaned to small businesses across the country through the program.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs oversees the program for the state, and banks must sign up to participate. According to ADECA records, Cheaha Bank in Oxford, Southern States Bank and Noble Bank and Trust, both in Anniston, are the local institutions participating in the initiative.

Foster said she was approved for her loan in November through Cheaha Bank. For 24 years, Foster has raised quails for hunting, but has also dabbled in farming soybeans and corn. She recently decided the time was right to expand those farming efforts but needed a fertilizer truck.

"We bought the truck with the $87,000 loan," Foster said.

Scott James, senior lending officer for Cheaha Bank, said his bank has approved $1 million in loans to several businesses this year through the program and expects to approve another $1 million next year. James said the loans have been used for a variety of different needs, from expanding businesses to starting new ones.

"There's not many limiting criteria other for the loan other than it not be for speculative investment," James said.

James said that unlike more traditional government loan programs, the initiative has less red tape and gets money to businesses faster.

"There's a very customer-friendly process with it," James said.

Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank, said there appeared to be significant demand in the area this year for small business loans, at least at his bank.

"Until the money runs out, we're going to use it," Williams said of the loan program.

Greg Smith, chief credit officer for Southern States Bank, said that in the past year, his bank has loaned out about $1 million through the program for different purposes, including helping one local entrepreneur buy an Oxford hotel and others buy automobile service stations in Heflin and Anniston.

"What this program has done for us is make some loans we normally have not been able to make," Smith said. "We're always looking to help small business."

Smith said that like Cheaha Bank, his bank has had an easier time dealing with the initiative than with other government loan programs.

"It's administered by the state and has a lot fewer strings attached," he said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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