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Programs

Northern Initiatives


Attempting to launch a business in a rural area has its special challenges. The Small Business and Family Improvement Initiative: Launch, Grow and Prosper helps small business owners living in rural northern Michigan start and succeed in business.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Northern Initiatives President Dennis West: We're giving individuals and small businesses the ability to access credit, capital, and information that would generally not be available to them. So we fill some important and unique niches that make a difference to people, and we're getting to a point where we can reach more people each year and have more ability to meet their needs and requirements.
 
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
We just had an evaluation that helped us to see that our borrowers who have children in their homes have been more engaged in wealth building, like having mortgages, savings accounts and other things to help them build wealth.
We just had an evaluation that helped us to see that our borrowers who have children in their homes have been more engaged in wealth building, like having mortgages, savings accounts and other things to help them build wealth.
The second thing we gained was some insights about local small businesses, that 80-90 percent were outsourcing business to local businesses, so now we need to find out how to measure that. We continue to get more recognition and interest in our work so that's helping to bring a new variety of partners into our support system. For example, last year we were selected to be a part of a growth collaborative with Goldman Sachs.
 
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Our vice president of lending left at the end of the year, and it was a reminder of how important it is to maintain flexibility and keep an eye on resiliency. Things happen at unsuspecting times.
 
What really differentiates this program?
What differentiates us is we launched with an operating philosophy that has its theory in the philosophy of Jane Jacobs: that rural areas need access to capital and they have a disadvantage to urban areas. That's a philosophy we take into our work. We offer capital plus we also do work that helps to grow markets and to organize regional strategies.
 
What are the keys to success for your program?
We've been very good at what we do, we have good operating systems, track our data, are very conscious of how we're performing, and look at ways to continue to improve. We have a great board that is very engaged and cares about the institution.
 
How does your program ultimately help children and families?
One of the issues that affect families and children is the ability to have income and wealth. Our efforts support job creation, which in turn leads to more stable family situations.
Our efforts support job creation, which in turn leads to more stable family situations.
And about 40 percent of our borrowers are women, so we're opening up business ownership more to women, as compared to what has historically been the case. Seventy percent of our start-up loans are for small businesses.
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Person Profile

  • Dennis West
    Small business success results in more stable U.P. families

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