Closing the Funding Gap - How Ohio's Rural Small Businesses are Gaining Access to Flexible, Life-Changing Capital

September 27, 2022
Written by:
Moniqua Spencer
Senior Vice President
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Small businesses are the backbone of the United States economy. In the past 25 years, entrepreneurs have generated 12.9 million net new jobs. That’s two out of every three jobs added.

But today, small businesses, especially rural small businesses in my home state of Ohio, are struggling. While Ohio’s rural entrepreneurs are resilient, like many communities across the country, they have been slower to recover from the pandemic. According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, two out of three small businesses in Ohio say the COVID-19 pandemic is still negatively affecting them. When asked to look forward, many said that normalcy isn’t likely to return soon.

Roadblocks to success include paying higher prices for goods and services, finding talented and committed employees among an aging and shrinking population, affording competitive salaries and benefits, and competing with larger companies.

But perhaps the most keenly felt hurdle for rural entrepreneurs is limited access to capital – often due to a lack of collateral, insufficient cash flow, resources to help navigate lending options, and other challenges.

Rural America’s small business funding gap

When seeking funding to expand and grow, rural small business owners face unique difficulties.

1.     Access to brick-and-mortar banks is limited

A lack of physical banking branches in local towns is a huge disadvantage for rural small businesses. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), some rural communities are "banking deserts," with brick-and-mortar bank branches few and far between.

Moreover, of those banks that have a rural presence, many are closing at record rates. Of the counties deeply affected by these closures, 89% were in non-metropolitan areas.

2.     Eligibility challenges

A smart alternative to conventional financing are SBA loan programs, such as the popular 7(a) and 504 loans offered by approved lenders. The SBA guarantees these loans, reducing the financial risks that financial institutions face while helping borrowers who don’t qualify for bank loans.

Despite this guarantee, many SBA lenders continue to view rural small businesses as high-risk. That’s because SBA loan approval depends on the business owner having sufficient collateral, good credit, and adequate cash flow – a requirement that excludes many rural entrepreneurs who have weathered economic turmoil.

3.     Community banks are selective in their loans

Another source of financing for rural businesses are community banks. However, in a tough economy, community banks are more inclined to limit their investment portfolio to real estate transactions where tangible collateral (buildings and property) can be used to secure the loan, thereby reducing the lender’s risk exposure. It’s an unfortunate lending focus (or strategy) that closes the door to rural business owners who need capital to fund inventory, purchase equipment and other non-real estate business needs.

4.     Inflexible financing

Lastly, banks – whether they are large commercial banks or community banks – are accountable to shareholders and regulators, which limits their flexibility. When they lend money, they typically require repayment to begin within 30 days. This is a huge challenge for emerging businesses looking to grow that need flexible terms to execute their plan.

Taking on the rural small business funding challenge in Ohio

Nowhere are these unique funding challenges felt more acutely than in Ohio’s rural counties. While Ohioan rural small business owners are resilient, like many communities across the country, they have been slower to recover from the pandemic.

But exciting, substantial, and impactful progress has been made to address the rural business funding gap and bring capital and quality jobs to the state’s underserved areas.

So what’s changed?

Recognizing the need to maintain strong commercial activity in rural Ohio, in late 2020, the Ohio Senate reauthorized the Ohio Rural Business Growth (RBG) Program.

Originally passed in 2017, the renewed RBG program provides affordable, flexible capital for small businesses located in Ohio’s 75 rural counties with populations under 200,000.

A key advantage of the program and the investments it supports is that it provides Ohio rural businesses with flexible capital in the form of debt and/or equity $2M to $5M.    

Impactful investments that bring capital and quality jobs to underserved areas

The impact of the RBG program has been profound and is indicative of the type of impact investing that Advantage Capital has made our mission for 30 years – bringing capital and quality jobs to underserved areas. Indeed, our experience serving rural small businesses has taught us that capital both strengthens communities and changes lives.

Consider Stirling Ultracold (formerly Global Cooling) a manufacturer of ultra-low temperature environmentally friendly freezers located in Athens – a historically underserved county with the most extreme rate of income inequality in Ohio. In October 2020, the company announced its role in global COVID-19 vaccine storage and distribution efforts. As the only company to produce freezers capable of storing any COVID-19 vaccine requiring ultra-low temperatures, Stirling played a key role in public health efforts

But five years earlier, things were quite different, and the company struggled to find investment to build out its world-class facility, fund new product development, and later meet vaccine-specific demand for its products.

Eager to play our part, in over five years Advantage Capital has invested over $9.4 million in the company – in part via the Ohio RBG program – supporting it through pivotal growth stages and spurring job creation. This included an investment in early 2021 to support additional capacity in Ohio as global sales escalated for its ultra-low temperature freezers for COVID-19 vaccine storage.

Now one of the largest employers in the area with 195 jobs supported and a workforce that grew by 30% in just three months, Stirling Ultracold continues to expand – organically and through M&A – bringing sustainable economic opportunity to the entire region.

Creating a lasting legacy for Ohio’s rural communities

Besides helping Ohio’s small businesses recover from the pandemic and expand operations, impact investing through the RBG program ensures economic opportunity for the people who need it most – putting Ohioans to work in quality, high-paying jobs with benefits, while producing competitive returns for our investors.

Stirling Ultracold is just one of many success stories. All told, Advantage Capital’s impact efforts have helped small businesses in Ohio create hundreds of jobs since 2015.

What we’ve achieved together is remarkable and I’m proud of the positive impact companies like Stirling Ultracold and many others are having on communities and the regional economy.

I’d love to share more of these stories with you, hear about your funding challenges, and find ways the Ohio RBG program can work for your rural Ohio business. Contact me at mspencer@advantagecap.com or visit advantagecap.com/ohio for more information.

Moniqua Spencer is a senior vice president and member of the Advantage Capital investment group where she is responsible for sourcing and providing due diligence support for prospective investments. She is passionate about working in underserved markets. Her defining moment came when she served on the leadership team of a statewide CDFI and CDE, where she led the financing of catalytic projects in underserved urban and rural areas. She believes in giving back to her community and serves on multiple boards focused on underserved businesses and youth.

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Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits Volume 9 Issue 9: NMTC Investment in Operating Businesses Complex, Beneficial

It's not simple to invest NMTCs in operating businesses, but it's impactful. It comes down to permanent, quality and accessible jobs, says Advantage Capital Managing Director Jonathan Goldstein.

Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits Volume 9 Issue 9: NMTC Investment in Operating Businesses Complex, Beneficial
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Invests in Ohio-Based RXQ Compounding, LLC

Advantage Capital today announced a nearly $3.6 million investment in RXQ Compounding, LLC, an FDA-approved outsourcing facility that manufactures medical formularies and medications used in physician offices and hospitals across the country, located in Athens County, one of Ohio’s hardest hit rural areas.

Advantage Capital Invests in Ohio-Based RXQ Compounding, LLC
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in New Hampshire-Based Rustic Crust, Inc.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) invests in Rustic Crust, Inc., a “better-for-you” pizza company.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in New Hampshire-Based Rustic Crust, Inc.
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Picks Winning Teams in Revitalizing Communities and Putting Capital to Work

Advantage Capital celebrates some of the country's top emerging leaders in community finance at MIT's Community Finance Challenge.

Advantage Capital Picks Winning Teams in Revitalizing Communities and Putting Capital to Work
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Portfolio Company Cleveland HeartLab, Inc. Acquired by Quest Diagnostics

Cleveland HeartLab becomes the base for Quest Diagnostics’ first national center of excellence in cardiometabolic disorders.

Advantage Capital Portfolio Company Cleveland HeartLab, Inc. Acquired by Quest Diagnostics
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Napa, CA Office Statement

For Immediate Release: Advantage Capital’s office in Napa, California will be closed until further notice as a result of the recent Northern California fires.

Advantage Capital Napa, CA Office Statement
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Managing Director Ryan Brennan Appointed to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Advantage Capital has announced that Managing Director Ryan Brennan has been appointed as Vice President, Office of Investment Policy at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the development finance arm of the federal government.

Advantage Capital Managing Director Ryan Brennan Appointed to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Will Use NMTC Allocation to Spur Economic Growth

On November 22, 2016, Advantage Capital announced that it was awarded an $80-million allocation in the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program. Administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, this program helps economically distressed communities attract private investment capital. This brings Advantage Capital’s total awards to $739 million since 2001.

Advantage Capital Will Use NMTC Allocation to Spur Economic Growth
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Florida-Based Vintage Italia

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP), along with Silas Capital and Emil Capital Partners, announced today it is leading a $3 million financing round in Florida-based Vintage Italia. Dedicated to providing capital to companies in food and agribusiness industries, ACAP has selected Vintage Italia – founded by entrepreneur Jerry Bello – as the first company within the snack food category to receive support from the fund.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Florida-Based Vintage Italia
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in California-Based Hip Chick Farms

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LC (ACAP) announced today a $2-million investment in Hip Chick Farms, which offers a line of organic and fully cooked frozen poultry entrées. The investment comes at a time of growth for Hip Chick Farms, supporting its release of new products as the company begins to supply to large retailers Target and Kroger.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in California-Based Hip Chick Farms
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Texas-Based NurturMe

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) announced today a $3.7 million investment in NurturMe, which produces organic quinoa-based baby food and toddler snacks. Dedicated to providing capital to companies in food and agribusiness industries, ACAP has selected NurturMe – a startup founded by Austin, Texas-based entrepreneurs Caroline Freedman and Lauren de la Rosa – as the first company within the baby food category to receive support from the fund.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Texas-Based NurturMe
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Makes Follow-On Investment in Pacific Ag

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced a second investment in Pacific Ag, the nation’s largest crop residue supply chain solutions company, to help fund the acquisition of Calagri, a leading regional agricultural residue and hay harvesting company.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Makes Follow-On Investment in Pacific Ag
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Partners Makes Investments in Three Ohio Businesses

Advantage Capital Partners announced today investments in three Ohio companies -- Cleveland HeartLab, Inc., DOmedia, LLC and Global Cooling, Inc. Over the past 12 months, Advantage Capital has invested a total of $10.89 million into five separate businesses with the help of the federal New Markets Tax Credit program and the Ohio New Markets Jobs Act.

Advantage Capital Partners Makes Investments in Three Ohio Businesses
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Makes Follow-on Investment in American Botanicals

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced a second investment in American Botanicals, LLC, a Missouri-based supplier of bulk herbs and botanical products, to help fund the acquisition of Aloha Medicinals, Inc., a biotechnology company focused on medicinal mushroom production.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Makes Follow-on Investment in American Botanicals
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Leads $10 Million Investment in Hortau

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced its second investment in Hortau, a leader in irrigation management systems. The investment was part of a $10 million financing round led by ACAP and joined by BDC Capital, Inc., Avrio Ventures LP II and Capital régional et coopératif Desjardins.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Leads $10 Million Investment in Hortau
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Partners Provides Additional Capital to Innovations of the Year Awardee

Advantage Capital Partners has announced an additional investment in GENICON, a designer, manufacturer and global distributor of laparoscopic surgery products. GENICON recently received the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons’ 2015 Innovations of the Year recognition for GENICON’s GENIStrong Specimen Retrieval Bag.

Advantage Capital Partners Provides Additional Capital to Innovations of the Year Awardee
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Rural Utah Manufacturer

Advantage Capital Partners has announced an investment utilizing the Utah New Markets Jobs Act in ACT Aerospace, a manufacturer specializing in composite design, analysis and production for the military and commercial aerospace industries.

Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Rural Utah Manufacturer
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Organic Herb Grower Shenandoah Growers

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced an investment in Shenandoah Growers, one of the nation’s top suppliers of certified organic herbs specializing in serving retail grocers. Located in Harrisonburg, Va., Shenandoah Growers produces and sells both live potted herbs and fresh cut herbs to many of the leading food retailers in the U.S. ACAP invested in Shenandoah alongside food and agriculture equity groups Middleland Capital and S2G Ventures.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Organic Herb Grower Shenandoah Growers
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Pacific Ag

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced a $7 million investment in Pacific Ag, the nation’s leader in large-scale agricultural feedstock supply chain solutions. Pacific Ag harvests and markets hay crops, grass, wheat, corn and other crop residues for hundreds of U.S. growers, which are sold into various end markets, both domestic and export.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Invests in Pacific Ag
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Announces $5 Million Investment in Hortau Corp.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, LP (ACAP) has announced a $5 million investment in Hortau Corp., a California-based leader in irrigation management systems. Founded in 2002 and based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Hortau is a designer and manufacturer of technology-enabled soil monitoring and irrigation management systems for agricultural applications.

Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners Announces $5 Million Investment in Hortau Corp.
Advantage Capital - Investment Capital for Small Businesses - United States, Finance, Capital, Investment, wealth, local community

Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Central Florida Medical Device Manufacturer

Advantage Capital Partners has announced an investment in GENICON, a designer, manufacturer and global distributor of over 200 products in the laparoscopic surgery market. GENICON, headquartered in Winter Park, Fla., offers innovative products across the U.S. and to over 60 international markets.

Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Central Florida Medical Device Manufacturer

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