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Small Central Coast Service Businesses Get A Leg Up Because of Opportunity Fund

By Cassandra Arsenault, Reporter, CassandraArsenault@kionrightnow.com
Published On: Jan 30 2014 08:55:44 PM CST

SALINAS, Calif.-- Owning a small business is hard work. It's even harder in a tough economy, where the credit markets are tight, and getting a slice of the financial pie can seem impossible. One organization called Opportunity Fund recently came to Santa Cruz and Monterey counties relieving some businesses of their penny pinching.

Opportunity Fund focuses on local businesses like salons or convenience stores. They believe small businesses are what is going to make the Central Coast economy thrive. In their first 7 months here they have given away 44 loans worth a total of about $750,000 in loans.

Lopez Automotive has been a neighborhood favorite since 1982. It's not just because this second-generation mechanic is a friendly face, or because his four-legged companion, Auto, hangs out at work everyday, but more because he is passionate about his work, and it shows.

"I love my job. It's the reason I have been here for so long," said Manuel Lopez, owner of Lopez Automotive.

That love for cars is what has raised his five children, four grand-children, and put two of his kids through college; but when the economy took a turn, so did his business.

"With times as hard as they are right now sometimes you need a little bit of working capital because business isn't as good as it used to be," said Lopez.

He had to let employees go leaving just him to work 12 hour days, and his equipment needed an upgrade..

"My smog machine needed some work. That's a lot of my income right there because everyone needs to smog their cars every two years," said Lopez.

He couldn't get the loan he needed from the bank, so he found Opportunity Fund which gave him the $13,000 loan he needed.

"The opportunity fund addresses the services center of the economy-coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, that's the bread and butter of our economy," said Bud Collagen, Opportunity Fund Leadership Council Member.

According to Colligan, 55 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses. Opportunity Fund plans to give 100 loans in the first two years on the Central Coast.

"We target people who for some reason cannot get help from commercial banks whether it be that they don't have records, low credit score, foreclosure or undocumented, so Opportunity Fund comes in with micro loans," said Colligan.

Lopez can vouch that the process to get the loan doesn't take much.

"I did the application at my shop, and they called me to tell me I was eligible. All I had to do was go pick up the check. Very quick and simple. The loan made my life a lot easier," said Lopez.

Opportunity Fund is the largest micro lender in California. They are giving out loans as high as $100,000, and usually give them to people who already have existing service businesses.