Mountain Brew employee Rose Bradley works Saturday at the coffee shop on Oak Street. The business is one of three that participated in the city of Steamboat Springs micro-grant program.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Mountain Brew employee Rose Bradley works Saturday at the coffee shop on Oak Street. The business is one of three that participated in the city of Steamboat Springs micro-grant program.

Steamboat micro-grant program gives businesses major boosts

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— A small grant from the city of Steamboat Springs helped Chocolate Soup Pastry Cafe’s wholesale operation get over a hurdle. A separate city grant allowed Sober Guys to begin operating its service and a third grant made Mountain Brew’s transition into a new location a bit less costly.

Each of the businesses received a grant of between $2,000 and $3,000 from the city, part of its expanding micro-grant program to help boost economic development locally.

The grant came just in time for Chocolate Soup’s Lisa Ciraldo and business partner Mary Ann Gunn, who were out of money and had just received their biggest order to date for macaroons and graham crackers.

In September, Chocolate Soup started selling its milk chocolate almond macaroons, dark chocolate pistachio macaroons and Bella Luna graham crackers at Whole Foods Market locations in the Rocky Mountain region.

“We were at a point where we needed funds to keep going,” she said. “We had just gotten the Whole Foods account and we were getting ready to ship to Whole Foods. (The grant) helped us get the equipment to fulfill that order.”

The micro-grants are an offshoot of the Steamboat Springs City Council’s increased emphasis on economic development this year. The emphasis led to the creation of an economic development policy. The policy, which focuses on preserving and protecting city assets, leveraging those assets, and increasing business diversity and average wages, also outlines the micro-grant program.

Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark, who also serves as the city’s finance manager, said the program allows businesses to apply for grants up to $5,000.

According to the policy, the businesses must be located within city limits, must have other seed capital, must be new businesses or an expansion or improvement of an existing business and must present a business plan that demonstrates a return on investment.

Hinsvark added that to be considered, a grant recipient can’t compete directly with an existing Steamboat business.

“For instance, if somebody wanted to put a coffee shop next to Winona’s, we probably wouldn’t be looking at that,” she said.

“Really what we’re looking for are small incentives to new ventures.”

Sober Guys owner Aaron Alpe said the grant helped immensely with his new business, which provides a driver to take home customers — in their own cars — who have been drinking. Alpe said the grant helped pay for start-up costs such as office supplies, attorney’s fees and the company’s “chase vehicle” — the car that follows its employee driving the customer’s car.

Alpe said Sober Guys (970-688-4252) provides rides for $25 within a five-mile radius of downtown Thursday through Saturday, and it’s looking to expand.

Mountain Brew’s situation is a little different. Al Compos, who owns the coffee shop at 427 Oak St. with his wife, Tasha, got a micro-grant in the form of having some tap fees forgiven. The Composes were in the process of moving their business when the city was increasing tap fees to help fund water and sewer projects.

“Our landlords helped us out to get us open so we passed (the micro-grant) on to them so they didn’t have to take a financial hit on the property,” Compos said about Dewey and Janet Williams. “They’re super-great people. They helped us to do what we needed to do to get open. It was the least we could do.”

Hinsvark said the city’s administrative team reviews applications and decides whether to award grants.

“We’re willing to entertain any and all ideas through the city manager,” she said. “He’s been doing regular visits with as many businesses that he can meet with to see if there’s ways that we can partner with businesses or make them more profitable in the community.”

The city budgeted $125,000 for economic development in 2012, which could be used for micro-grants and larger projects such as the city’s economic aid to SmartWool and ACZ Laboratories.

City Council member Kenny Reisman said he likes the program and wants to make sure it’s accessible to many businesses.

“We’re never going to be a city that’s going to be able to attract, I think, a huge corporation,” he said. “We’re not really made for that. What we are made to do is attract people who want to live here, make a lifestyle choice and help them facilitate a successful business, a small business. I think (the program) works toward that.”

Chocolate Soup’s Ciraldo agrees.

“It’s fantastic that the city has programs like that to keep businesses in town,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re from Steamboat, and we want to stay in Steamboat.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

Change it to an interest free micro loan program with no personal guarantee. This way if the seed money makes the business successful then the city/taxpayers get their money back. If it is a business that is intended to make money then if they do, all investors should get paid back (including the taxpayers).

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rhys jones 2 years, 11 months ago

Hey, that was MY idea, only I was going to call it DADD (Dial-A-Designated-Driver). Oh well, the early worm and all. I guess I'll have to revert to Plan A -- nobody's writing insulation estimating software locally, are they?

My seed money is whatever I earn in the kitchen, and my business plan is to keep making it better 'til it sells like hotcakes.

Somehow I think I'd fall short of City requirements, as again I slip through the cracks.

Hats off to the winners!! I envy true initiative.

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

yep, that is what banks are for but they charge very high rates for independent business and some times non existent for what they perceive as a high risk, yet the access to cheap capital can help foster a more vibrant local economy not simply hinged upon tourism. Though if the business is successful then pay it back as it was someone else's money that got you ahead, if not the community is trying to give someone a hand up not a hand out and forgive the debt.

The grant approach is wrong, imo. but it is not socialist. Socialist would not be working towards more independent business'. Just because the government is getting involved does not make it socialist.

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Troutguy 2 years, 11 months ago

Good thing that wasn't the thinking 150 years ago. We would have no railroads, the interstate highway system, etc. And the kicker is the sainted Ronald Reagan was the father of the public-private partnership of this era. Go figure. Reagan was a Socialist. Who would have thought...

Here's a little reading for you:

http://www.ncppp.org/resources/papers/seader_usexperience.pdf

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

warped sense of view, giving the sole proprietor a fighting chance versus corporate america and its government subsidized borrowing via pension plans (via tax breaks for saving for retirement which can not be invested in ones own interest).

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

Hey mon, those far east countries were paying my father in law's company $70 apiece for white collar jobs that were moved from the US. Seems to me we are in an economic fight, wanted my bro to move to China to train Chinese to do his old departments job.

Yep this is not 1901 when we had a sound monetary system and other countries were not manipulating money supplies to steal our mfg sector. The world is not black and white as you portray and the grants should only go to new business or those expanding their services that are not duplicated or that there product is being shipped out of county.

Every large community today has some sort of economic development program, to encourage business growth and gives sales tax rebates (ie the business zone near copper ridge). Personally I would prefer to see this as long term those receiving the $ might get off their subsidy drug and yes in a perfect world this would not occur though it is not a perfect world.

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ybul 2 years, 11 months ago

In looking at the grant to chocolate soup (I do not believe in grant from the govt), it is not about picking a winner and loser locally. It is about giving a local business more tools so they can fill a niche within the community. What Chocolate soup is doing is bringing in money from outside the community and not causing anyone to lose locally.

Sounds kind of like a smart thing to do, excluding the fact that if the private enterprise is successful then the taxpayers should be repaid - in addition to the enlargement of the local economy from this happening.

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