COLUMBIA — Chris Heston caught the coattails of a new dream, and a small business loan from the state allowed him to see where it would take him.
The cabinet maker was inspired to found his wooden-toy company, Timberworks Toys, after spending some father-son time with his child. A $24,900 loan from the state’s small business loan program, which Gov. Jay Nixon established two years ago, gave Heston’s fledgling business a helpful boost.
In the program guidelines, the governor acknowledged the crucial role small businesses play in the country’s economy.
Missouri businesses with 15 or fewer employees are eligible for the program’s loans, which range from $2,500 to $50,000, with a 3 percent interest rate.
John Fougere, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said the loan pool was originally $2 million.
“To date, we have awarded 51 loans,” he said. The state has lent about $1.3 million, leaving roughly $670,000 to lend, Fougere said.
Heston said the loan made a big difference.
“I bought some specialized equipment to add to my woodworking equipment, and I hired an extra person to help make toys and then bought materials,” Heston said.
Although he hopes for growth in sales, his business is already gaining notice and recently fulfilled its first international order.
Wednesday evening, Heston sat in the audience at the state Capitol while the governor cited him as an example of small business success during his State of the State address.
“Chris Heston in Columbia used his state loans to expand his woodworking business and hire another worker,” Nixon said. “His wooden toys won a Parents’ Choice Award in 2010.”
Until a few weeks ago, the program’s guidelines were stricter than they are now. Businesses with more than five employees were ineligible, and the maximum loan amount was $25,000, Fougere said. The program was made more inclusive “to prompt more businesses across the state to apply for these loans.”
“One thing we see with small businesses is sometimes they have challenges as far as access to working capital to purchase equipment, to stock inventory, to hire employees,” Fougere said. “We think this loan program provides them with this capital that is crucial to their well-being.”
Heston believes the program is a small step toward a healthier economy. “If you do this for the whole country, it’ll make the whole country stronger," he said.