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Business growth, financing options covered at Connellsville mixer

| Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Taking the next step in the economic development of the Connellsville area, the Downtown Connellsville semiannual mixer brought together potential business owners with the information and tools needed to start up and fund their ventures by welcoming a program presented by the Small Business Administration.

The mixer, titled “Meet the Lenders,” welcomed representatives from several area lending institutions who provided information on funding and helping entrepreneurs and business owners.

The program, presented as the annual fall mixer of Downtown Connellsville, was held in partnership with the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority.

“The Downtown Connellsville committees host the events to give an update on the progress being made in the community through this initiative,” said Michael Edwards, executive director of the authority. “We are coming to the end of the initial four years that we had said that we would be operating the program. But our plan is to seek out support from the community once again to continue for another four years of 2014 through 2017.”

Edwards spoke about the growth of the city and the positive direction that Connellsville is taking. He also addressed the beautification of existing structures.

“14 businesses have opened in the past four years, and another seven have relocated within the district,” Edwards said. “We have run a matching façade and sign program and have been able to leverage $35,000 in additional grants for beautification projects — benches, planters, trash receptacles and an informational kiosk. We have started two festivals — the Mum Festival and It's a Connellsville Christmas. This time we partnered with the Small Business Administration in order to provide some resources for our local businesses.”

The event featured informational displays and booths, offering interested parties the opportunity to locate needed information, and included several brief informational programs that touched on various subjects concerning investing, operating and funding a business.

Carl Knoblock, the SBA district director, spoke about ways to fund projects and avenues that can be explored for potential growth including crowd funding, a unique concept when seeking financial backing.

“It's great to see what is happening in Connellsville,” Knoblock said.

He said that when seeking investors, the best route is to keep things straightforward.

“Keep things simple,” Knoblock said. “People who try to make it too complicated get no buyers.”

Melanie Ansell, an independent contractor for the E-Magnify Program, explained the importance of credit scores, honesty and research in her presentation, “Getting the Bank to Say Yes.”

“It's tough to get approved,” Ansell said of seeking loans. “You have to have a good plan, and you have to have good credit. If you are a customer seeking a loan, you get a lot more done quick — if you are honest about your credit and history.”

Government loans also were discussed.

David Miller, senior vice president and relationship manager for Enterprise Bank, told of the flip side of borrowing — from the lenders' perspective.

“One of the things that we are always asked is: ‘Why do you need all this paperwork?' and ‘Why do you need all this information?' ” Miller said. “You need to create a story, a file, that justifies why you need a loan.”

Miller said that when a potential small business owner is seeking initial financing, everyone has to be flexible.

David Kahley, president and CEO of the Progress Fund, talked about businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage that were financed through the group and that have proved successful, while stressing the opportunity for even more growth.

“We gave 30 loans to businesses that are along the Allegheny Passage, and not one has failed, and several are expanding,” Kahley said. “I see so much more opportunity up and down the trail.”

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