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Unique Bank-Nonprofit Partnership Funds New Art Gallery

12/15/2021

A unique relationship between the 1st Southwest Bank and a sister community nonprofit helped a local Cortez artist open the art gallery she always dreamed of starting. Sponsored by Downs, McDonough, Cowan and Foley, LLC and TruWest Auto

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Cortez Photographer, Jodi Jahrling had always dreamed of opening her own art gallery, but the timing never seemed right. Then she had a stroke. You're watching the local news network brought to you by Tru West Auto in Cortez and Durango and the Law Firm of Downs, McDonough, Cowan, and Foley. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. Jahrling's brush with death two years ago changed her life and her resolve to open her art gallery. But without the help of a business loan from the First Southwest Bank and its sister, Nonprofit, the First Southwest Community Fund, she would have lost the business within three months of opening.

I didn't have any funding at that point and started using my credit cards to get every chair and table that I needed, every fixture that I needed and then realized I can't sustain this. And so that's when I first looked into getting a loan from the Community Fund. They listened to my story and what I was trying to do in the community, and they said, "We can help you."

Literally, hundreds of entrepreneurs in Southern Colorado have been able to start or expand their businesses thanks to the unique partnership between the bank and the Community Fund. What's so unique is that First Southwest Bank started the nonprofit organization when the bank was designated as a Community Development Financial Institution by the United States Treasury in 2015, one of only two such institutions in Colorado. The designation allows the bank to use both private and public dollars to provide access to credit and financial services to underserved communities like those in Rural Southwest Colorado.

our whole focus is inclusive and equitable access to capital. So we support small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs across Rural Colorado, focusing on the Southern and Southwestern Counties. We are a non-traditional lender. We work alongside the bank, but the First Southwest Community Fund is a nonprofit. So there's a lot of additional resources we can help folks access.

First Southwest Bank originally established the Community Fund to accept a $5 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture. Since then the fund's assets have grown to $15 million, money that has been used to provide low-interest loans, grants, and technical assistance to hundreds of businesses from the San Louis Valley to the Four Corners. It manages nearly a dozen grant and revolving loan programs for business owners and entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to obtain a conventional loan.

The Community Fund only does loans up to 250,000. We can often catalyze funding needs that are up to a million, 1.5 million. So we act basically as risk mitigating capital a lot of the time, which enable some of these community assets or businesses that wouldn't otherwise be able to get funding from a traditional lender, be able to get access.

During the pandemic, the fund established the Innovate Onwards Fund to provide businesses with low interest loans for working capital to rehire staff, upgrade equipment or purchase inventory. Another program, the Creative Arts Fund, provides low interest loans to artists and entrepreneurs to purchase materials, establish a gallery or even an online presence.

The loans range up to about 15,000. The interest rate is very low, it's 2.5%. The loan terms go up to 10 years. And while that sounds like a lot of numbers, what that means is artists and creative businesses can take out a really affordable loan that sometimes they're only paying 90 to 100 bucks a month on, but it enables them to do things like purchase a big piece of equipment that has maybe a $10,000 investment that they wouldn't be able to do right off the bat. But by having that loan and those low monthly payments, they can use it to improve their business, but not have that big hit right at the beginning.

Jahrling's Zu Gallery at the Northeast Corner of Main Street and Chestnut features a rotating exhibit of 12 artists all from Montezuma County. Rather than facing closure and high credit card debt after three months, Jahrling now enjoys a thriving business.

It's been a lot of fun. We have a meeting space and we've had classes in there and those have been selling out every time we have one. We just had an artist reception and that was well attended and the artists sold a lot of work. So I feel like I'm doing everything right because everything seems to be falling into place.

For more information about the First Southwest Bank and the First Southwest Community Fund visit fswb.com. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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