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Taking a risk: Five mid-Missouri residents with ideas strive for microloans

Sunday, November 6, 2011 | 5:27 p.m. CST; updated 4:31 p.m. CST, Friday, November 11, 2011

COLUMBIA— They’ve all had setbacks.

Losing a job. Falling behind on a mortgage. Being buried in medical bills.

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Many of their struggles are not so unique. They are felt by the millions afflicted by a flagging economy and the uncertain outcomes of life’s chances and choices. They are felt by the millions who wonder, “Can anything be done to make my life better?”

Five mid-Missouri residents are trying to answer that question.

During an intensive six weeks, they’ve been meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Central Missouri Community Action Center in Columbia to take part in a small-business startup program. They have a range of ideas — a coffeehouse, a nonprofit youth sports league and a website that caters to the unemployed — ideas they’ve been thinking of for months, if not years.

This was the first time the center, which offers a variety of services for low to moderate-income people, has offered this kind of help.

At the center, staff help refine the participants’ proposals and give them lessons on the countless factors that go into devising a business plan and launching a new operation. What permits do they need? How much will they have to pay in taxes? How do they promote themselves with little more than a semblance of a marketing budget?

In mid-September, the classes ended, and in the upcoming weeks, participants will meet individually with center staff to figure out their next moves.

Ideally, they’ll then receive a loan from the center’s microloan pool. Dianna Moore, the center’s director of economic development, said the average loan will likely be about $5,000. So far, the pool consists of donations from local businesses, but the center also hopes to obtain a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It’s a daunting time to take on what has always been a daunting endeavor. Economic doom and gloom blankets the news. Banks are hesitant to loan. Consumers are reluctant to spend.

But five Missouri residents are forging ahead.

Next page | Chris Brandt, Boonville gardener, seeks loan for organic farm business

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