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Tag: Diverse Economy

Downtown Gift Card Program

Downtown Gift Card Program

Are you considering a gift card program for your downtown? Or maybe you already launched one, but it’s struggling – or worse?

When done well, a gift card program can be an excellent way to market your downtown and support your Main Street businesses.

Learn the secrets of Middletown’s gift card program that led to a 14x return in sales for Main Street businesses! In this webinar, Sandra Russo-Driska discusses the must-do’s and absolutely-don’ts that have helped the Middletown Downtown Business District run a profitable gift card program for over a decade, including selling 4,100 gift cards in 2021!

Helpful LInks

In this presentation, Sandra Russo-Driska, Downtown Business District Coordinator, shares:

  • The support & resources you need to start and maintain a successful gift card program
  • Common issues that come up & how to overcome them
  • The staff & time commitment you need to run a successful gift card program
  • A brief overview of the technology platform Middletown’s Downtown Business District uses for their program.

Other Resources

CMSC Professional Affiliates

  • Link to MP PA post

Search Downtown Resource Library

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The investment platform for Main Street.

Mainvest supports local small business ecosystems by allowing the community to invest directly into local small businesses while providing access to capital on friendly terms for entrepreneurs. proven Four Point Main Street Approach: sustainable and inclusive development practices; project management; and community engagement.


Services include: Fundraising, Community & Economic Development, Small Business Development

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Nicholas Mathews, CEO / CoFounder
54 Ashland Street
Newburyport, MA 01950

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CSMC Webinar: Secrets to Success – CT Small Business Boost Fund

CMSC Webinar

Secrets to Success: CT Small Business Boost Program

Webinar Summary

In this webinar presenter Marlon Samuels gives us a a behind-the-scenes look at the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund, a new resource for Connecticut’s small businesses supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

This webinar builds on our prior webinar, Funding Your Main Street which offered an overview of the program. 

With loans ranging from $5,000 – $500,000, no origination fees, a low interest rate, and a focus on underserved business owners, the CT Small Business Boost Fund is a flexible program with quick turnaround that can help many Main Street businesses get the capital they need.

Presentation Highlights

  • Program details

    Marlon Samuels from Pursuit Lending provided the following information which is based on how Pursuit underwrites their CT Small Business Boost Loans. The program’s other participating lenders may have different underwriting criteria. 

    • The amount ultimately loaned to a business is based on several factors such as the business’s revenue, years in business, and size.
      • Businesses under 1 year old have loans  capped at $100,000
      • Businesses over 1 year old can have loans as high as $500,000
      • Loans over $100,000 have a 6 year-repayment term, while loans under $100,000 have a 5-year repayment term
    • With regard to underwriting the loans, the program is more focused on cash flow analysis
      • Debt service coverage ratio is 1.15%
      • Usually based off previous tax year
      • For businesses that hadn’t recovered yet in 2021 (perhaps due to a shut down), they will also look at 2022 interim financials. 
    • A minimum credit score of 640 is required, however, the program allows some flexibility to the lender to make decisions about waiving this requirement. For Pursuit, it’s less about the score itself than what’s driving it.
      • For example, one loan applicant had a score in the 500s, but it was great (in the high 700s) until Covid. That’s because she was late on her bills rather than layoff any of her employees. Because of her prior good credit and actions during Covid, Pursuit was able to still provide her with a loan.
      • Pursuit also allows borrowers to have an guarantor to offset their credit score. They’ll average the applicant’s credit score with the guarantor’s. The guarantor doesn’t have to be a person with ownership interest in the business or someone in your household. But they do have to have income, good credit score and be willing to take on the risk.
    • Who is the loan fund good for?

      • This program is great for small businesses that don’t fit traditional financing, especially since this is a much better rate than they’d get elsewhere, or even at prime rate. A lot of underserved businesses get stuck in a cycle of borrowing to cover debt but this program can help small businesses take on debt that’ll help them grow.
      • CT Small Business Boost Fund loans are ideal for businesses seeking financing for:
        • Working capital & inventory
        • Equipment purchases
        • Leasehold improvements
        • Debt refinance
        • Payroll
        • Utilities
        • Rent
    • Streamlining the Process & Common Obstacles

      How to Streamline the Application Process

      Marlon Samuels recommends small business applicants take the following steps to streamline the application process.

      • Pre-Application
        • Gather the needed documents before applying. You can work with a technical assistance provider like the CT Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for free. 
      • Post-Approval Most of the obstacles Pursuit is seeing are happening in this phase.
        • After you’re approved, you’ll receive a commitment letter from the lender, telling you the amount you’ve been approved for, along with a DOL release forms. It’s important to sign and return the documents as this starts the closing process.
          • Your commitment letter may be less than you requested, or it may be more than you want. For instance, you may have asked for $200,000 but only been approved for a $100,000 loan. Or you may have been approved for a $100,000 loan, but you only need $50,000 right now. You can accept up to the approved $100,000 loan amount. 
        • The small business owner needs to get a tax status letter. This has been a challenge for a lot of people, because some are getting letters saying they owe taxes. It’s important to note that at the beginning of the program, it was required the applicant completely pay off the taxes. Now it may be that they just need to show proof of a payment plan or have made 3 consecutive payments.
        • There will be a site visit conducted by a third party to verify the business operations.
        • A Confirmation of Good Standing Letter is needed from the Department of Labor
        • Business owners will have to present a Valid Operating License, depending on the type of business (i.e. a restaurant or daycare).
        • A Certificate of Legal Existence is also required. Business owners can request this from the CT Secretary of State as soon as they begin the application process. It’s good for 90 days.

      Approval to Funding Timeline

      The time is takes from approval to funding depends on each case, and usually depends on 2 factors:

      • Responsiveness of the applicant
      • Whether there any challenges getting the documents needed.

      From the lender’s perspective, it takes about 1 week to make a decision on an application.

      • Within the first 24 hours they do a quality check – are all the needed documents there?
      • Then it’s another 9-10 days to close, however it can take weeks, usually due to the same 2 factors: how quickly applicants respond and getting the necessary documents.
      • Some common barriers to closing include:
        • Businesses owing taxes 
        • The Department of Labor not providing verification. This could be because a business isn’t registered with DOL, or because the business owes employment-related taxes. 
        • Language and/or technical barriers, for instance, having trouble with the all-electronic application process.
        • Delay in identifying and submitting currenting licenses or tax status letters
        • Delay in signing documents

      A closing representative can help with these issues and answer questions the applicant may have.

    • A Main Street Perspective

      Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center Field Services Director describes how downtown businesses can use program funds.

      • Common uses for the CT Small Business Boost funds for businesses on Main Street:
        • Façade improvement – if your program requires a match, this program could provide the match for things such as lighting, window displays, etc.
        • Signage
        • Awning installation
        • Exterior lighting
      • Restaurant uses for the funds can include:
        • New kitchen or equipment/upgrades. 
          • During the pandemic, restaurants that could offered outside eating. These funds could help maintain and expand these outside eating features, for instance modular outdoor dining set ups.
        • Payroll support through slow seasons
      • Retail examples include:
        • Acquiring seasonal inventory or new products/services
        • Marketing and advertising, including a new website
        • Window displays – funds can be used to hire a professional to design a window display or improve lighting
        • Upgrade security equipment
      • Services-Based or Non-profits uses include:
        • Leasehold renovation and office set up
        • Onboarding a new software system
        • New website
      • It’s best to talk with your Main Street businesses to see what they need, suggest possible uses and discuss whether the Small Business Boost Fund is a good fit for them.
    • Additional Questions

      • What does the portal matching process look like?
        • Each lender can have their own underwriting criteria, for instance different credit scores. There’s a series of questions when you go in the portal, and depending on how you answer, you’ll be matched with one or more lender.
        • If you’re matched with more than one you can choose who you want to work with. There’ll be a write up and timeframe to closing provided for each lender.
        • If you don’t match any lenders, you’ll only see technical assistance providers listed. It’s their job to help the business owner understand why they weren’t matched, as it could be as simple as not filling out the form properly.
      • The CT Small Business Boost Fund is not like the PPP fund – the Boost funds are not running out, so businesses can and should take the time to connect with the technical assistance professional to make sure your paperwork is complete.

    View the Recording

    About the Presenters

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    CSMC Webinar: Funding Your Main Street – CT Small Business Boost Fund

    CMSC Webinar

    Funding Your Main Street: CT Small Business Boost Program

    Webinar Summary

    The Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund is a new resource for Connecticut’s small businesses supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

    With loans ranging from $5,000 – $500,000, no origination fees, a low interest rate, and a focus on underserved business owners, the CT Small Business Boost Fund is a flexible program with quick turnaround that can help many Main Street businesses get the capital they need.

    It is funded through a public-private partnership, with funds provided by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and six private banks.

    Presentation Highlights

    • How the loans work

      Kevin Gremse, NDC

      • NDC is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides lending for the CT Small Business Boost Program. The program is public/private partnership, meaning it is capitalized by a combination of state and private bank funds. This type of loan model is active in 18 states throughout the country.
        • There are currently six CT banks funding the program: M&T Bank, Key Bank, First Republic Bank, Webster Bank, and Citizens Bank.
        • The loan program is expected to be active for the next 3-5 years. The state’s investment is $75 million, the banks are providing at least $75 million.
      • The loans are aimed at helping small businesses and non-profits in distressed areas, and those owned by women and minorities (MWBE). It’s also targeted to businesses that need smaller loans between $5,000-$150,000. Larger loans of $150,000-500,000 are limited to 10% of the loan portfolio.
        • There are 25 distressed communities in CT, as designated by DECD. The aim is to have at least half of the loans go to businesses in these areas.
      • To date, the CDFI’s have provided about 110 loans totaling $16 million. The average loan over the last 3 months was approximately $150,000 but will likely go down over the coming months as the volume of loans increases.
        • Of the 7 CDFI lenders, 4 are CT-based; 3 are based in other state but have experience in this type of lending and so were brought in as lenders.
        • Businesses can choose which CDFI they want to work with. The application is centralized through one platform no matter which lender the business works with.
      • A key part of the program is aligning technical assistance with capital assistance. In CT, the main technical assistance provider is the Small Business Development Center.
    • Technical assistance for businesses

      Scott Arnold, SBDC

      • This loan is designed to reach businesses in areas that weren’t reached through DECD’s prior Business Express lending program.
      • The technical assistance offered through the Small Business Boost Fund is free, confidential and professional.
      • There are 3 types of assistance offered: pre-loan, packaging (during) the loan, and post-loan assistance.
        • SBDC will help applicants determine their eligibility, understand the program details and conditions, provide business templates, understand required documentation, review their loan package, and more.
        • They’ll also help businesses consider whether they can repay the loan, even if they’re eligible for the funds.
    • A Main Street Perspective

      Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center

      • Small Main Street businesses can use the loan funds for a variety of purposes including creating a marketing plan that addresses social media, websites or setting up online sales.
      • Restaurants can use the funds to update their décor, kitchen equipment or outdoor seating.
      • Retail businesses can use the funds for expanding inventory, new equipment, enhancing displays, updating point of sale technology, business security systems, or expanding product lines, etc.
      • Service-based or non-profit businesses can use the funds for leasehold renovations, new software systems, or new websites.
      • It’s best to talk with your Main Street businesses to see what they need, suggest possible uses and discuss whether the Small Business Boost Fund is a good fit for them.
    • Additional Questions

      • Can businesses not in distressed areas utilize the funds?
        • Yes, up to half of the loans will be available to businesses in non-distressed areas.
      • Is the funding only available to brick-and-mortar businesses?
        • No, small online businesses (non brick-and-mortar) are also eligible for the funds.
      • Can SBDC help small businesses obtain Minority or Women Business Owned certification?
        • Yes, they can help them achieve WMBE certification.

    View the Recording

    About the Presenters

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    CSMC Webinar: How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    CMSC Webinar

    How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    Webinar Summary

    Every Main Street will face vacancies from time to time, and COVID only exacerbated this challenge across Connecticut and the country. Not only are persistent vacancies detrimental to creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown, but they also have a negative economic impact on the community. In this webinar, our presenter Ilana Preuss – international speaker, and fierce advocate for creating great places and small-scale manufacturing – shares:

    • Innovative approaches to filling vacant storefronts from around the country
    • Programmatic ideas to collaborate with property owners
    • Long-term solutions to keep storefronts full by supporting local small business ecosystems

    Presentation Highlights

    • 5 Reasons why vacant storefronts exist

      1. Cost of renovation: The cost to renovate a vacant space is too high and the market does not support a lease rate that supports the cost of renovation.
      2. Tax benefits: Property owners gain a tax benefit on the loss of not leasing space.
      3. Devalue underwriting: For new, big development projects, the owner doesn’t want to lower the price of the storefronts to not devalue the whole project if they are looking to sell or refinance at some point.
      4. Guaranteed lease: This is common to see in malls or big box strip centers, where a major anchor tenant has a guaranteed lease for an extended period of time so no one else can come into the space.
      5. Mismatch of real estate sizes and small business needs: A lot of communities have a lot of storefronts that are 2,000-10,000 square feet when a lot of small businesses need 500-1,000 square feet.
    • Context & national trends that are influencing our downtowns:

      • Vacant storefronts reduce the value of nearby property by 20% or more. They reduce traffic to these areas and leads to a feeling of isolation in the community. The impact of vacancies are multi-fold and in many cases create a downward spiral in communities.
      • During COVID, a lot of businesses pivoted, some survived, and many did not.
      • Over 1 million COVID deaths impacted our householders, economy, and individuals. The psychological impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
      • A lot of people started businesses in recent years without a lot of business experience. They started small business because they lost their jobs or decided to pursue their passion or a different quality of life.
      • People are demanding higher wages and pay.
      • Before the pandemic we saw demographic shifts such as decline in working age population and growing income and wealth inequality – which have only been exacerbated during COVID.
      • A lot of major chains shrunk their footprint and are focusing on prime locations.
    • Strategies to fill vacant storefronts

      1. Support small business

      Specifically focus on small-scale manufacturing (businesses that make consumer products). These businesses have opportunities for different sources of revenue making them more resilient – retail, wholesale, online, pop-ups, etc. They are a draw for foot traffic in your downtown and bring people together.

      • Provide financing to support these businesses
        • Provide incubators, accelerators, or other support programs to help them gain business skills and/or how they can move into storefronts particularly when paired with market opportunities and financing
        • Examples of training programs for getting home-based businesses into storefronts: Baltimore Home Run Accelerator, 37 Oaks

      2. Commercial Vacancy Tax Ordinance

      3. Tax Increment Finance (TIF) or other funding vehicle with matching grants

      4. Financing for local business to buy real estate

      • Keep real estate ownership local by providing support and financing options for local small business owners who have the interest and capacity to purchase property.
      • Examples: Pittsburgh

      5.Commercial Land Trust

    View the Recording

    Other Resources

    About Ilana Preuss

    Ilana Preuss is the Founder and CEO of Recast City and the author of the new book “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing.”

    Preuss’ passion for great places grew out of her experience working with small and large cities all over the country when she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. EPA Smart Growth Program, and as the Vice President & Chief of Staff at Smart Growth America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Maryland.

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