By Grace Fricks
Main Street businesses play a vital role in creating economically sustainable communities, with established small businesses comprising 68 percent of all employer firms nationally. Not only do small businesses serve as primary sources of employment, goods and services, but they also keep profits local and feed community economies. Main Street entrepreneurs build lasting neighborhood connections that foster the communities where families successfully live, work, play and thrive.
According to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation, Main Street entrepreneurship climbed higher in 2016 than before the 2007 economic crash, stimulated by the jump in small-business survival rates. That’s good news for Georgia, where small businesses are in the majority. The Georgia Department of Labor reports that of the 300,000 registered employers in the state, 94.6 percent employ fewer than 50 people, and 77.7 percent fewer than 10. Although Atlanta has claimed its niche as a hotbed for tech startups, Main Street entrepreneurs are a key to community economic sustainability.
At Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), we focus on Main Street entrepreneurs like Ardina Pierre, owner of Nature’s Own Herb Shop in Hapeville, Georgia. As Ardina’s business has grown she has moved from leasing her shop space to purchasing the shopping center. With a loan from ACE she made energy-efficiency upgrades that have improved her bottom line and her property’s marketability. She now owns and operates a valuable asset in one of the fastest-growing communities in the Metro Atlanta region. With a little help from ACE, and a lot of hard work and commitment, Ardina now has a vested interest and a critical role to play in the future of her community.
ACE envisions that anyone in Georgia who has the desire — and, most importantly, the drive — to own his or her own business should have the economic opportunity to do so. For nearly 16 years we have fueled sustainable communities in Metro Atlanta by providing access to capital, business coaching, and community connections. Our focus is underserved small-business owners, particularly women, people of color, and those in low- to moderate-income communities in Metro Atlanta. And, through our new partnership with the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and Reinvestment Fund, made possible by a $4 million grant from JPMorgan Chase via its PRONeighborhoods initiative, we continue to generate sustainability in vulnerable neighborhoods. The new partnership’s development of affordable housing, essential services and thriving businesses in targeted neighborhoods is solidifying the foundation for a sustainable future.
Grace Fricks is president and CEO of ACE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) loan fund that provides loans and business consulting services to help borrowers throughout Metro Atlanta and North Georgia create and grow stable, sustainable businesses that generate jobs. Founded in 1999, ACE has loaned more than $37 million to entrepreneurs, which has created or saved more than 6,600 jobs in Georgia. For more information, visit www.aceloans.org.