The Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation (MVEDC) has been a partner with Valley Growth Ventures since the firm’s founding. MVEDC helped lead the grant submissions that formed the fund and with the initial set-up of VGV. Currently all back office operations, from accounting to financial transaction management, are performed through the partnership with MVEDC.
We had the opportunity to speak with MVEDC’s lending team leader and go-to woman, Teresa Miller, who also works with VGV as financial manager, about what’s going on at MVEDC currently.
Can you give a quick background about yourself?
"I have been with MVEDC for 12 years. I started at the bottom with servicing, but I now also have the role of Lending Team Leader. What that means is there’s a lending team of 3 or 4 of us and we help develop a new practice into the lending team processes called Lean Six Sigma. It’s an adaptive process so you can do things in a more efficient way.
I went to YSU and got my undergrad in communications, and just recently I went back to get my Masters in 2016. While I was doing that, I discovered Lean Six Sigma and loved it, so I implemented it at our office. After that I became lending team leader. Another role I have is trust department manager. I handle all of the loan payments and all reports we have due to different economic agencies like Economic Development Administration and SBA. I wear a lot of hats!"
Tell me about Lean Six Sigma?
"It allows you to monitor the processes you’re doing and find deficiencies that are in there–such as a borrower being upset at the amount of time it took to receive a loan–and we adjust our processes to make it more efficient. Our greatest success with this so far is that we used to have two loan officers that trickled loans down to me. Now we have a relationship manager and a financial manager instead, who then refer the loans to me. We each have our own roles. It’s kind of like an assembly line. so that we go through the same process for each loan. It makes the process much more efficient."
How has your role there so far shaped yourself and MVEDC as a whole?
"Me, personally, I’ve always liked Youngstown and didn’t really care about leaving here, although I did leave for two years and came back, but this job has really shaped my love for the Valley. I’ve always loved to help others, and this has allowed me to be able to do that. When I teach Junior Achievement I always tell them, 'My job is to make people’s business dreams come true.' It’s shaped me in that way where I want to see the Valley grow and thrive. I’ve built so many relationships here. I just did the Leadership Mahoning Valley class and there were a group of about 30 of us that became very connected, and we all still talk. It’s been great building those relationships, both professionally and personally."
I think we really need more of that kind of love for the Valley. Can you tell me a bit more about your new program called the Edge fund?
"We are in the works of creating a new revolving loan fund. To give an example of that we have an existing revolving loan fund, for which we borrowed $3 million from the EDA in 1979, and we matched it with $180,000. Today it’s a dollar for dollar. To date, we’ve lent out $38 million. It works because of its structure – we lend it, then the lenders pay it back, then we lend it again. And for us to survive, we just take a small administrator’s fee out of it every month as part of the interest that comes back. So it revolves. We’re 29 years into this fund. So now, we’re trying to start a new one. We want to be available to people who cannot get traditional bank financing, and we see a huge need for that; women entrepreneurs, minority entrepreneurs – because for people who have a credit score below 650, a bank won’t even speak to them but they still have great ideas. We have a loan program right now where you had to have been declined by a bank. It took off in 2011, and we couldn’t get the money paid back fast enough because there was such a great demand, so we’re doing a new one, called the Edge Fund.
The Edge Fund would be for people who cannot get traditional loan financing. It also would be revolving so we can see it grow for generations to come. I have 4 young kids, so this loan fund will be around for them if they want to start businesses. It stands for taking the Economically Disadvantaged and Growing them into Entrepreneurs. We are trying to find high net worth individuals to put money into the Mahoning Valley, and looking for anyone with an interest in seeing the Valley grow and thrive and are interested in our economic development."
Do the people who can receive this fund have some kind of business plan already or can they be kickstarters? As in, who can receive this loan?
"Anyone, whether just starting out or not. But when you come to us, we want you to have a great business plan in place; understand who are your competitors, have some projections in place, and have the idea put together. We’ve had people in our existing program who have been in business for under 2 years, which again, banks won’t even look at. So it can be people who want to buy more equipment or maybe have been working out of their house and want to buy a building. So it’s for expanding businesses as well."
What are some quick examples of companies that have grown and succeeded and are doing really well who went through your loan program?
"Interiors and Sew On, in North Jackson! She actually came back and got a second loan from us. Liberty Open MRI was obtained through a sale, and now they’re opening a second one.
Our ideal goal is to give them a loan and get their credit up, so they become bankable. This loan is kind of like a stepping stone to get a bank loan."
What other kinds of loan programs do you offer?
"SBA 504, these are larger loans that we have to get approved by the SBA.
The regional 166 state is for manufacturing companies, larger loans done in conjunction with a bank. Our revolving loan is for all sizes and all companies; our USDA loan is for companies within their service area. For the SBA ILP loan, you have to be declined by a bank. We need to have one job per $65,000 that we lend. The goal is job creation."
Thoughts on the future of the region? What do you like that’s happening? Where do you hope to see it go?
"Everything, Especially what the Marchionda's are doing downtown. They’re doing the 422 corridor and beautification. We have a loan down there with Happy Campers, and now they’re leading something down there for beautification as well. I love being able to lend to these businesses and see the growth and create jobs. The opportunity will be there for generations to come. I want to see it grow to be a great place for my kid’s generation. Everything gets better with age."
Any companies you have an eye on that are bringing more growth to the area?
"The buying of the old steel mill by Auto Parkit in Warren; we’ve talked to them and worked with them, and they’re going to bring a lot of jobs to that area. One place who brought a lot more jobs than expected was Dearing Compressor. She’s done a fabulous job."