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Small business lender re-locates to Holyoke

(left to right) Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund (WMEF) Board Member Leslie Lawrence joined WMEF Executive Director Christopher Sikes, Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan, Open Square owner John Aubin and State Sen. Michael Knapik at the official opening of the Fund's new offices in Holyoke. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE For the Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund (WMEF), the move to new offices to Holyoke is a way to serve its clients throughout the region, according to Executive Director Christopher Sikes.

Sikes spoke to Reminder Publications last week at the open house of the new offices at Open Square.

Formerly in Greenfield, Sikes said the new office is "more centrally located."

"We wanted to be in an area where the work we do has the greatest impact," he explained.

Open Square, the one-time mill building now being developed as mixed-use space for various businesses, is "perfect for us to be in a group of young growing businesses," he said.

John Aubin, the owner of Open Square, said the new tenant was a "great catch for us."

WMEF was formed in 1990 as a response to the fact that some businesses are too small for bankers to consider for loans. By 1993, the WMEF was one of the first microlenders to be funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and was certified by the treasury department as a Community Development Financial Institution. By 2003 it was Massachusetts' largest SBA microlender, and named the Microenterprise Lender of the Year.

By 2005, the WMEF had lent over $5 million to a variety of small business such as beauty salons, restaurants, food companies, a bicycle shop and daycare centers, among many others.

State Sen. Michael Knapik said, "My colleagues in the Legislature know the importance of this organization."

Sikes said the WMEF has a "counter cyclical" role in the local economy. When business conditions are less than optimal, their loan activity "skyrockets." The Fund has seen a dramatic increase in lending this fiscal year to $2 million, doubling from last year. Sikes predicted the amount would double again in the next fiscal year.

In fiscal year 2007 the loans ranged from $500 to $250,000 for businesses in 11 communities in the four western counties. These loans helped create or retain 200 jobs in the region.

One of his and his staff's biggest tasks is to increase loan capacity, Sikes said. The Fund works with local banks to put together loan packages for businesses that ordinarily wouldn't have been offered.

The key to the success of the businesses is more than just a loan but additional support to help the business grow, Sikes added.

The Fund is now starting to work more to sustain local agricultural businesses and manufacturing in the area as well as it more traditional small businesses, Sikes said.

Mayor Michael Sullivan said that it was important for businesses in Holyoke to have the Fund located in the city.

"Small businesses are the backbone of America and the key to our economic recovery," Sullivan said.

For more information, contact Sikes at 420-0183 or by logging onto