Growth Fund gives boost to small businesses
Monday, October 5, 2009
When Brian Molloy was a kid, he used to hang around the bike section of a Connecticut sporting goods store so often that its employees eventually thrust a broom at him.
"They had me sweep in the back room and break down cardboard boxes for a while before they let me tinker with the bikes," Molloy said.
Today, Molloy has his own shop, where he tinkers with bikes, sells them and maintains them.
The Hub Bicycles, 1245 S. Milledge Ave., was born in 2001, when Molloy and a former business partner got a loan from the Athens-Clarke Human and Economic Development Department to open shop.
The Athens-Clarke County Growth Fund is a five-year loan available to small businesses to create jobs for low-wage workers residing in the county. Loans generally are awarded to companies that can't get full funding from a bank.
"That's where the Growth Fund comes in," said Catherine Hogue, the community economic development coordinator at the HED. "Really, businesses might not get started without this injection of funds."
The loan requires businesses to create at least one full-time job for every $35,000 borrowed, with more than half of those filled by individuals at or below moderate income levels.
The Hub was given a $25,000 loan, which the partners paid back about 18 months early. The company had no problem meeting the loan's requirements, said Molloy, now the sole proprietor. The Hub now employs four people, including 24-year-old Mark Schroeder.
"Athens is a great place for bikes and has a good cycling community," Schroeder said. "But without the loan, they couldn't have opened."
More than a dozen Growth Fund loans have been made to the Athens-Clarke business community, mostly to local and family-owned restaurants.
"Providing jobs is what we're expecting companies to do," Hogue said.
Creating those jobs wasn't hard, Molloy said.
The Hub outfits seasoned cyclists to inexperienced riders, and most customers come into the store with questions.
"You literally have to help every single customer who comes in," said Schroeder, who has worked there for four years. Most customers come into the store three or four times before they purchase a bike, according to Schroeder.
"We really, really take a lot of pride in taking care of our customers," Molloy said. "My guys are great. They make everyone feel really comfortable."
Providing jobs to Athens residents has become increasingly important to Human and Economic Development.
"We're not seeing any job creation right now," Hogue said. "Right now, we're all about job retention."
Molloy has seen some friends move out of Athens to find good work.
"No one wants to leave Athens. They leave because they have to," Molloy said. "Unless you're your own businessman, it's hard to stay here."
The Hub is here to stay, Molloy says. Despite a tanking economy, last year was a good year for the bike shop because rising gas prices got people out of their cars and onto two wheels. Sales increased by about 20 percent, according to Molloy. By January, when gas prices returned to normal, so did their business.
"We're doing well," Molloy said. "We're selling fun."Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, October 05, 2009
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