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Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley Helps Hundreds of Businesses Start, Survive and Grow

By Colin McEvoy on February 20, 2018

Alan Jennings (right), executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, at a CALV press conference. (courtesy photo)

Alan Jennings (right), executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, at a CALV press conference. (courtesy photo)

Sam and Gina Masotto had long desired to open a brew pub, but the husband and wife duo had never opened a business before Bonn Place Brewing Company opened its doors in Bethlehem for the first time in July 2016.

The venture was made possible in part by a $100,000 loan they received from a program run by the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. But Sam Masotto said in addition to the loan, which since has been paid in full, CACLV helped give them the knowledge and confidence they needed to succeed.

“I don’t know if we could have done it without them, but if we had tried, I know it would’ve been a heck of a lot more difficult,” said Sam Masotto. “They made our lives a lot easier by putting us in touch with the right people, keeping us on the straight and narrow, giving us a sense of responsibility, and believing in us. I can’t say enough good things about them.”

CACLV’s community and economic development initiatives have helped hundreds of businesses get started, and scores more existing businesses survive and grow. In total, the organization has helped create or retain more than 700 jobs in the Lehigh Valley.

“You can’t have a functioning community without a functioning market,” said Alan Jennings, executive director of CACLV. “So, we are trying to intervene in our neighborhoods’ marketplaces in order to create real economic opportunity. THAT is the highest form of fighting poverty.”

Rising Tide

The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, a subsidiary of CACLV, has awarded more than $6.2 million through 194 loans to 167 different micro-enterprises and small businesses that couldn’t otherwise get loans from conventional sources.

Those loans alone have led to the creation of at least 295 jobs and the retention of 354 jobs. The current Rising Tide loan portfolio includes 64 loans with a balance of $2.3 million, creating 129 jobs and retaining 133 jobs in the region.

The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund provides a full range of one-on-one business counseling, micro-loans, technical resources, and assistance to business owners where resources and opportunities for growth are limited.

Of the 194 loans since the fund’s inception, 121 have gone to partially or wholly woman-owned companies, 74 to minority-owned businesses, and 133 to low- to moderate-income individuals or businesses located in a low- to moderate-income census tract.

In addition to Bonn Place, a few Lehigh Valley companies to receive Rising Tide loans include Amare Hair Salon, Bangor Trust Brewing, Custom Weatherization, Laura’s Custom Framing and Fine Art, Mezzimatic, Sole Artisan Ales, Sports Cuts Barber Shop, and The Yoga Loft.

Neighborhood-level work

In addition to the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, CACLV has been active in neighborhood-level work in south Bethlehem, the Slate Belt, and Allentown, designed to make small business districts and their surrounding neighborhoods more economically viable.

The organization’s annual business directory has nearly 200 businesses that are functioning today, in part, because of the organization’s assistance.

CACLV subsidiary Community Action Development Corporations of Allentown (CADCA) has been heavily involved with helping improve Seventh Street, the main artery into Allentown, which in March 2006 was designated as a Main Street program.

Since that time, more than 50 businesses have opened, decreasing vacancy rates from about 55 percent vacant to about 98 percent occupied, Jennings said. Forty-six entire building rehabilitation projects have occurred, and crime rates have decreased by 73 percent.

“When people ask how they can help, they expect me to tell them where to mail their donations,” Jennings said. “I tell them that how they spend the 3 to 5 percent of their budgets on charities is nowhere near as important as how they spend the other 95 to 97 percent. Think about how much of a difference we could make if we focused our spending in urban stores, locally-owned establishments and minority or women-owned businesses.”

Commercial and residential incentive grants have been awarded to more than 100 projects assisting Seventh Street merchants, for such efforts as facade improvements, commercial conversion projects, business retention projects, and historic door replacement and entry way funding.

Assisting entrepreneurs

Additionally, CADCA and the Community Action Development Corporations of Bethlehem (CADCB) have served the business development needs of existing and prospective entrepreneurs in their respective municipalities for over 20 years.

In their positions as organizations focused on community development and the promotion of economic opportunity for all residents, CADCA and CACDB have prioritized the needs of low- to moderate-income, women, and minority entrepreneurs from low-income census tracts in south Bethlehem and Center City Allentown.

Their business development programs consist of the Start Your Business course, which is offered twice-yearly in both Allentown and Bethlehem, in addition to one-on-one technical assistance for entrepreneurs in marketing, business planning, financial analysis, sales strategy, and more.

Examples of successful businesses that have come through these programs include The Art Establishment, Beauty Alibi by Carmen Toro, M&N Tire and Auto Services, Made by Lino, and RPB HVAC.

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