Friday, March 2, 2012

Starbucks Revisited

Remember Starbucks' Create Jobs for USA program?

The java giant launched the program last fall in an innovative effort to help stimulate the economy by getting money into the hands of micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses that could create jobs—if only they had access to funding. The program is sort of a "counter-to-community" model: Starbucks customers are encouraged to donate a few bucks after buying their Caramel Macchiatos. The aggregated funds are then funneled to community development loans funds, which make loans to entrepreneurs in low-to-moderate income areas that conventional lenders deem too risky. These loan funds have an impressive record of success and job creation. (See my previous post on this)

The program is off to a promising start. Since November 1, customers have donated more than $2 million. Assuming an average donation of $5, that's about 400,000 customers. Add in the $5 million that Starbucks kicked in, and we're looking at $7 million being injected into underserved communities. The money is leveraged by the community loan funds for maximum impact: every $5 from the Create Jobs for USA program translates into $35 worth of loans.

Those are the numbers, but here's what it looks like in action.

In Elkins Park, a tree-lined Philadelphia suburb, Starbucks customers are helping to fund a new food cooperative called CreekSide Co-op. The Reinvestment Fund, a Philly-based community loan fund that is one of the 63 such organizations to receive funds from Create Jobs for USA, is making a $2.2 million bridge loan to the coop. That will allow it to complete construction, after which it will qualify for a USDA loan guarantee program. In addition, CreekSide Co-op has raised $280,000 from its members, who earn up to 6% on their money, in an ongoing member loan campaign.

The CreekSide Co-op is expected to create 47 fulltime positions and 28 construction jobs. And locals hope it will help revive the area's flagging retail district, which has suffered since a popular, locally-owned grocery store sold out several years ago and foot traffic trailed off.  Jon McGoran, a Creekside Co-op board member and Elkins Park resident, notes the experience of Mount Airy, another Philadelphia neighborhood. When the Weavers Way food coop opened a few decades ago in a quiet spot there, other businesses soon followed, including a bookstore, a yoga studio, a creperie and an architectural salvage shop, creating a vibrant retail center and what is today one of the area's most coveted neighborhoods. McGoran, who works at Weavers Way, said Mt. Airy coop is also lending money and expertise to CreekSide.

In Buffalo, New York, a community health center is another recipient of a Starbucks-supported community loan. After several hospitals and primary care facilities in the area were shuttered, patients visits at the Community Health Center of Buffalo swelled. The center was able to expand to 50,000 square feet thanks to a $450,000 loan from Primary Care Development Corp., a New York-based community development financial institution (CDFI). The expansion enables the center to provide primary and preventative medical care, dental and behavioral health services more than 12,000 low-income residents, and has created jobs across a spectrum of skill levels, ranging from entry-level clerical to licensed professionals, in an area that badly needs them.

These are just a couple of examples of how the spare change donations of ordinary citizens can have a real impact on neighborhoods in need. Better yet, many community development loan funds allow individuals to invest directly in their own communities, in return for CD-like returns in the low-to-mid digits. To find a loan fund in your own area, check out the Opportunity Finance Network's CDFI locator.

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