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Seeing big potential in small businesses; ECIDA's Business Stimulus Loan Fund helps growing companies create new jobs

By most standards, HEI Recycling is a small company. It has fewer than 40 employees, is only five years old, and it generally flies under the radar when it comes to state and federal funding.

It is also the exact type of company the Erie County Industrial Development Agency is trying to help.

"What do we talk about? The need for jobs," said Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who is on the ECIDA board of directors. "The catalyst for job creation here is small business. Every small-business owner wants to create jobs."

That belief in the power of small business was the driving force behind the creation of the IDA's Business Stimulus Loan Fund. It loans money to credit-worthy small businesses that are unable to secure bank loans due to more-stringent banking policies, Collins said.

For HEI Recycling, the loan provided a chance to gain new contracts. Since receiving a $300,000 loan in April, HEI has signed contracts with Catholic Health System and Crescent Manufacturing in North Collins, said Kathy Faulhaber, vice president of sales and marketing.

"It's saving our business, because we were at the point when we were just going to throw our hands up," said Dennis Heuer Jr., president. "Now, we've increased employment; we plan to increase employment more."

HEI has hired seven new employees, bringing the total to 34, with plans to add 20 more within the next six months, Faulhaber said.

"Many companies in Eric County have real problems finding bank financing, especially if they are small- or medium-sized companies and not well-known household names," said Al Culliton, the IDA's chief operating officer.

"Higher credit standards have hurt business," Culliton said. "And many times, the money the companies need to grow that money is scarce."

Small steps, like the HEI loan, are the goal of the program, said Collins, who believes that small businesses are likely to create the jobs that will employ Erie County residents. "We have 20,000 small businesses in Erie County. If each one creates one [job] a year, that's 20,000 jobs a year," he said. "In five years, that would be 100,000 jobs."

The IDA does it's due diligence and makes sure the loans go to small businesses that stand a good chance of being able to pay the loans back, plus interest, Collins said. The money isn't a grant or a tax break, so it's a good deal for taxpayers, as well.

The businesses that receive the loans will hopefully be able to expand in the community and offer more jobs to residents, he said.

"In the past, the problem in Erie County and much of New York State has been the 'silver bullet solution'," Collins said. "Today is 2011, and the future of America is small business."

The IDA has provided $804,000 through the loan fund since it was established in the fall of 2010.

Advantage Industries, which operates as Willard Machine in Buffalo, received $260,000, and TenEleven Group, in East Amherst, received $244,000.

"My hope is that we will have credit-worthy small businesses lined up outside the ECIDA to take advantage of this program," Collins said.

e-mail: mtighe@buffnews.com

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