Local/federal partnership helps the city’s citizens and businesses thrive
Albany, Georgia, located in the southwest part of the state, is the seat of Dougherty County. The City of Albany has a population of approximately 77,500 people, with African-Americans making up about 72 percent of the total. Albany is an “Entitlement Community,” and, as such, receives two major funding sources from the Federal Government – Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, and HOME Investment Partnerships monies. Both programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Entitlement Program provides annual grants on a formula basis to entitled cities and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) provides formula grants to states and localities that communities use – often in partnership with local nonprofit groups – to fund a wide range of activities including building, buying, and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or home ownership, or providing direct rental assistance to low-income people.
Shelena Hawkins is Albany’s Director of the Department of Community and Economic Development. Her Department is responsible for administering the federal grant monies on behalf of the City. She explains how the federal funds are used: “Those funds are targeted toward servicing low and moderate income persons within the City of Albany and also assists businesses. [It funds] public services such as housing counseling and homeless services, housing repairs, and also business assistance to stimulate economic development.” This year, the City is partnering with the Flint River Habitat for Humanity to use some of its CDBG funds for the administration of an emergency home repairs program. Additionally, the City is partnering with a number of non-profit organizations to use CDBG funds to meet community needs of low and moderate income persons within the City. Its HOME funds are used for affordable housing
development, in partnership with non-profit and for-profit organizations. Currently, the City is constructing ten new units of affordable housing for seniors in close proximity to its downtown area.
Some of the CDBG allocation is also being used to fund a business incubator in partnership with Albany Community Together, Inc. (ACT!). ACT! is a public-private economic action partnership established in 1997 to provide financial assistance to small businesses that lack access to traditional sources of capital, i.e. banks. It often works in partnership with those banks to meet the credit needs of small business owners. Since 2001 ACT! has provided over $6 million in loan funding to 121 businesses, and leveraged over $30 million in private funding while creating 350 jobs in the 35 counties of Southwest and West Georgia, where it operates.
Thelma Johnson is the President and CEO of ACT! and serves as the liaison between the city of Albany and its Micro Business Enterprise Center (MBEC), which services small businesses and entrepreneurs and which also contains the incubator program that provides resources and services to help new businesses start, grow, and succeed.
Johnson characterizes the typical person who might apply to the MBEC’s incubator program for assistance: “Someone who either has started a business which is less than two years old, or is looking to start a business. They would come to the center to inquire about the space (the MBEC offers temporary office space to start-ups) or the training available to help them write their business plan and vet out their business ideas.”
She continues, “The goal of the center is to get a business in and to incubate it; hold it as it grows from the infancy stage to being able to survive on its own; to get all the valuable nutrients that it needs to grow into a sustainable business. The incubator is there to provide support for someone who’s serious about starting a small business or looking for an opportunity to create an additional income stream through micro-enterprise development. We have some people who come to us who have never operated a business. But our goal is to meet them where they are and to help them. You don’t just get resources, you get someone who will be with you along the way.” A major part of the center’s incubator program is to help start-ups obtain funding.
But in helping businesses begin and grow, the City has some loan funding available of its own, through the CDBG program. Phyllis Brown, the Deputy Director of the City’s Department of Community and Economic Development fills in the details: “We have two economic development loan programs whose primary objectives are job creation. One is the Community Development Block Grant Revolving Loan Fund. That’s the one in which we partner with local banks to provide gap financing up to $50,000.” Whereas banks might only lend 80 percent of any necessary financing, the City can supply the extra 20 percent. “The primary objective is that at least one full-time equivalent job is created or retained per $35,000 borrowed.”
The second program is the Economic Development Administrative (EDA) Loan Program which provides loans from $5,000 to $200,000 for startups, business expansion or improvements, or working capital. It too requires that at least one full-time job is created or retained per $35,000 borrowed. One of the successful recipients of this program was a young man named Anthony King who wanted to open up a Little Caesars Pizza franchise in Albany, in 2008. The City loaned him $100,000 for his initial investment. Today, King owns three pizza shops in Southwest Georgia and three more in Tallahassee, Florida.
Improving the economic viability of Albany is an ongoing partnership between the City, the federal government, and other organizations and institutions in the Albany metropolitan area. Working together, these stakeholders are helping to create a healthy, viable and sustainable community in this part of Southwest Georgia.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Albany, Georgia
WHAT: An Entitlement Community of 77,500 thousand people
WHERE: The southwest part of the state; the seat of Dougherty County