As Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan wrapped up a multi-state visit last week, she stopped in Kentucky where she announced the recipients for the Rural Microentreprenuer Assistance Program (RMAP) on Oct. 28.
Two of the recipients announced in this first round of funding are Kentucky companies, including Community Ventures Corporation (CVC) in Lexington – where Merrigan made her announcement.
CVC was selected to receive a $500,000 loan and a $105,000 grant to provide financial and technical assistance and training to rural microentrepreneurs. The organization serves rural businesses in 10 counties that have been designated as Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) communities, which are characterized by high unemployment rates, poverty and low per capita income.
The Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation in London, Ky., was selected to receive a $500,000 loan and a $100,000 grant to provide employment opportunities in southeastern Kentucky through investments, training and management assistance.
“We need to be putting our programs to work for small businesses. For us at USDA that means small businesses in Rural America,” said Merrigan. “The importance of small entrepreneurship is particularly profound in the most rural areas. We need micro lending in rural areas and Congress addressed this issue in the 2008 Farm Bill by giving the USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area a brand new program, the Rural Microentrepreneurship Program. That’s why we are gathered here to today – to celebrate that rural entrepreneurs will now the access to credit that can put them in business.”
During the announcement at CVC’s headquarters, Merrigan talked with CEO Kevin Smith and heard from a local restaurant owner with a wonderful success story of microborrowing from CVC.
Anna Marletta shared the story of how she and her brother opened Bellini’s in downtown Lexington seven years ago. Marletta said 70 percent of the food served in the Italian restaurant is purchased from local growers.
“It keeps us fresh and current,” said Marletta. “It’s so endearing to know where your food is coming from and the growers are proud too.”
Marletta received a microloan from CVC six months ago and the results have been astounding. The restaurant hired new workers and purchased new equipment – and sales have increased by 50 percent, according to Marletta.
“The future is very bright for us and we’re looking to expand,” said Marletta. “We’re proud to be part of the revitalization of downtown.”