Micro-Loan Program is Giving Small Businesses a Big Boost

By Lynn Horsley.
The Kansas City Star

Laura Norris has worked for Kansas City nonprofits for years but always dreamed of running her own Italian deli.

In 2013, she raised money from friends and family to finally open her business, but she kept getting turned down by banks for the last piece of financing to make it work.

Then she learned about Kansas City’s micro-loan program to help small businesses, and she got the $35,000 she needed for refrigerators and other equipment. Her deli and wine bar, Cucina della Ragazza, recently opened to good reviews in Westport, at 301 Westport Road.

“It was crucial. Absolutely,” Norris said of the micro-loan. “I don’t think there’s anybody else out there for this size business.”

Norris isn’t alone. Other small-business owners say Kansas City’s micro-loans — averaging $12,000 and capped at about $50,000 — were precisely the help they needed to make their ventures work. And advocates say the program, which launched in January 2012, has become one of the most robust of its kind.

“It’s possibly the fastest-growing micro-lending municipal program in the nation,” said Galen Gondolfi, chief communications officer for St. Louis-based Justine Petersen, which administers Kansas City’s program and is the nation’s second-largest Small Business Administration micro-lender.

Gondolfi said there are cities Kansas City’s size that do just a handful of micro-loans per year. In contrast, by early December, the program had loaned out almost $900,000 to 81 businesses within the city limits of Kansas City.

Lisa Zimmerman, the Justine Petersen small-business counselor based in Kansas City since March, says she, too, is struck by how busy she has been.

“I was told to expect six loans a month,” she said. “I average 10 loan referrals a week.”

The program extends beyond Kansas City’s boundaries to include Jackson, Clay, Cass and Buchanan counties in Missouri and Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami counties in Kansas.

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