Small-business owners and nonprofits across Arkansas can apply now for low-interest loans of up to $100,000 and free business support through the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund.
The fund has more than $50 million in initial commitments from philanthropic, private and corporate investors, according to a news release. It aims to eventually lend $150 million or more to small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees in 15 states, including Arkansas.
The loans are designed to reach the smallest of small businesses and those that have been historically underbanked, including rural and women-, minority- and immigrant-owned businesses.
The fund works with and through Community Development Financial Institutions. Eligible applicants will be matched with a participating lender that will assist them.
"At Communities Unlimited, we know how to get needed capital into the hands of entrepreneurs of color and rural small business owners in the South. It requires trusting relationships, intensive technical assistance and, well, capital to lend," Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited, a CDFI headquartered in Little Rock, said in the release. "We are excited to be among the 13 CDFIs chosen to serve as community lenders for the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund. SOAR will help us reach more entrepreneurs in order to help them pivot, recover and rebuild from COVID-19. In the end, our joint goal is to help entrepreneurs thrive and build wealth, especially in areas of persistent poverty."
"The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated an already uneven recovery from the Great Recession. Southern states had slower economic growth, lower labor force participation, and higher unemployment than the rest of the country, partially driven by the historic lack of corporate and philanthropic investment in the region," added George Ashton, managing director at Local Initiatives Support Corp., which manages the fund. "The SOAR Fund will tackle these issues head-on by addressing structural barriers to economic opportunity by providing capital to Southern small businesses and nonprofits that need it now."