From bookkeeping to skin care and Middle Eastern cuisine, the NH New Americans Loan Fund is helping first-generation immigrants build businesses and create jobs. Laurel Adams, president of the Regional Economic Development Center (REDC) in Raymond, which launched the fund in early 2018, says it works with local lenders to help borrowers secure micro-funding between $5,000 and $50,000 and is already helping half a dozen NH businesses.
SkinGreat in Laconia was founded by CEO Rita Toth (pictured), an immigrant from Hungary. Toth is the inventor of the company’s product, StretchPatch, a localized, high-potency treatment for scars. She says it is hard to start a business, but harder still if you are new to the country. “It puts you at a disadvantage unless you have your own funding,” she says. “You have no way to access traditional funds, which are much better because of the rates.”
Toth says she will use the loan funds to build inventory, market to the U.S. consumer base and expand product lines. She says she is glad that the REDC is recognizing the value new Americans can bring to the economy. “I think this program will enable us to make positive contributions, give back to New Hampshire and help build diversity in the state.”
Tika Acharya, the owner of AS Insurance in Manchester, received the first loan. He told an audience at a May event announcing the fund that by helping first generation immigrants to start a business, the fund is enabling them to put down roots and contribute to the economy. “We have tried many times with traditional lending institutions, but as we don’t have a history in the U.S. of owning a business, we have been denied many times,” says Acharya, who is originally from Bhutan, and opened the independent insurance agency in 2017.
Tika Acharya, owner of AS Insurance, was the first recipient of a loan from the fund. Photo by Judi Currie.
He says he now has close to 2,000 clients. Acharya is also the executive director emeritus of the Bhutanese Community of NH, an organization that helps Bhutanese refugees who began to resettle in NH from refugee camps in Nepal in 2008.
Among the other recipients is Georges Heating and Cooling, also in Manchester. Established by a Haitian immigrant in 2015, the company provides new installation and repair/service. “Like many immigrants, the client has had difficulty establishing credit based on limited banking, mortgage, or credit history. He purchased two vehicles for his business at quite high interest rates,” Adams says. Since receiving the loan earlier this year, the company has added a senior foreman and an entry-level apprentice and continues to grow.
Foresight Tax Services, which is owned by a Congolese couple and a Sudanese refuge, provides individual and small business tax services for immigrants and refugees. They received a loan for office equipment and working capital. They were also assisted by the REDC business advisor with developing a business plan and financial projections. “In the 2018 tax season, they exceeded their projections by 20 percent and expanded to two offices, one in Manchester and one in Concord,” says Adams.
REDC recently approved a loan for an Iraqi couple to establish a Halal Middle Eastern restaurant in Manchester. Adams says this was a successful collaboration between the NH Small Business Development Center and REDC in guiding the clients through the loan package development process, including developing a menu, capital budget, and projections. The advisor is helping the clients with logo and menu design, as well as website development.
In August, Enterprise Bank, which is based in Massachusetts with six NH locations, purchased the first $50,000 in tax credits to support the NH New Americans Loan Fund. Businesses can buy the credits, which are applied against their NH tax liability, for a net cost of approximately 15 cents on the dollar. John Phelan, a first-generation immigrant and senior vice president at Enterprise Bank, says that since its inception 30 years ago, Enterprise Bank has recognized the importance that diversity has played in its growth.
“Several years ago, we formed a multi-cultural alliance that consists of employees from multiple backgrounds and cultures, whose mission is to promote diversity within the organization and create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive,” Phelan says. “As many of us are first-generation immigrants ourselves at the bank, we recognize the challenges new American entrepreneurs face when they arrive to America. We value being trusted advisors for our clients, so we truly welcome the opportunity to participate in the New Hampshire New American Loan Fund with REDC.”
For more information, visit redc.com/newamericanloanfund.