Published: Sept. 15, 2022
Jeff Bowman, Stockbridge-Munsee and president of Wisconsin Oneida Nation owned Bay Bank in Green Bay, has been involved with the First American Capital Corp., Inc. since its beginning.
Bowman, who serves as president of the FACC Board of Directors, recalled joining the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (AICCW) board in the late 1990s when discussions began on how to help Native-owned businesses and entrepreneurs connect with the right financial resources. The Chamber decided to create a revolving loan fund (RLF) to help Native business owners.
“With many Native entrepreneurs, they were the first generation to launch or own a business and it was very challenging to get credit,” Bowman said.
To launch the RLF, Chamber representatives met with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce (now known as the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.). “The state was providing funds to other RLFs, and we worked with them to see how we could get funding for our Native RLF,” Bowman said.
In 2002, state officials embraced the Chamber’s plan, providing them with a $210,000 grant with $150,000 set aside for making loans to businesses and $60,000 to help with operating expenses over three years. That grant led to the creation of FACC, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall.
“The AICCW created the child organization (FACC) so it could focus on the financing businesses,” Bowman said. “We started making loans, which fostered even more growth.”
Today, FACC has $8 million in assets. Over the past 20 years, FACC has made more than 200 loans worth more than $11.5 million to Native-owned businesses and other eligible markets of disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) across Wisconsin.
“There were so many business owners who just could not get traditional lenders to give them a chance. The idea of creating a revolving loan fund came up … it’s amazing how it has blossomed from there,” said Bill Beson, FACC’s co-executive director.
Beson said two decisions made by the original FACC Executive Director Craig Anderson — becoming a Certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2004 and being approved as a Small Business Administration Microlender in 2007 — accelerated FACC’s growth. FACC was the first Native CDFI in Wisconsin and the first Native CDFI in the nation to join the SBA Microlender program.
“Becoming a CDFI opened a lot of doors for us since it allowed us to apply for grants,” Bowman said. “From 2005 to 2021, FACC received $6 million in grants from the CDFI Fund that we, in turn, used to help business owners.”
Beson said becoming an SBA Microlender also set FACC apart in another way.
“As part of the Microlender program requirements, you need to have technical assistance programs in place, such as providing help with business plans, connections to tax and legal resources and more,” he said. “Providing that technical assistance is a key component of what we do. We help entrepreneurs and small business owners succeed.”
Along with Bowman and others, Anderson helped co-found FACC and guided the organization until his death in 2020.
Bev Anderson recalled the enthusiasm and determination her late husband had in launching FACC. Anderson became involved in the FACC herself when Craig’s assistant retired, and he asked her to help until someone new was hired. That was back in 2008 and she still works today for the organization.
“The FACC has slowly grown, and then we’ve had tremendous growth the past few years,” Anderson said. “It has been interesting to watch. If Craig were still here, I know he would be proud with how much the organization has grown.”
Setting itself apart
The FACC has three distinct components — making the loans, providing technical service, and raising additional funds so the organization can continue to grow and help more businesses — that help it stand out to borrowers, Bowman said.
FACC Co-Executive Director/Development Gary Mejchar has been assisting with the fundraising and compliance reporting aspects of the FACC business model for nearly 14 years.
“Originally, FACC was in a place where we could provide $25,000 in funding, growing to $250,000 currently, but we want to get to a place where we could lend a half-million, to qualified borrowers,” he said. “Watching how the FACC has grown and prospered has been inspirational.”
Beson said the organization works with a lot of businesses in the transportation and construction sectors. He said FACC helps guide businesses become a certified DBE, which opens additional contracting opportunities, including bidding on Wisconsin Department of Transportation and other government contracts.
Mejchar said the AICCW, FACC’s sister organization, has had the privilege of performing many WisDOT DBE Support Services Contracts over the years, and is currently, along with FACC, helping to administer the WisDOT Mobilization Loan Guaranty Program.
FACC recently added more staff members to help better meet the needs of the organization’s growing client base.
When reflecting on FACC’s first 20 years, Beson pointed out how many “firsts” the organization has had through the years: FACC was the first Native organization in Wisconsin to create an RLF; the first Native American RLF in Wisconsin to become a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI); and subsequently, the first Native organization in the country to join the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Microloan program.
“The future is unlimited for this organization,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of growth in the past few years, and I expect that only to continue.”