For years, Hartly native Connie Richard operated a part-time preschool, as well as before- and after-school care.
The only problem was that those two services were split across two locations.
Richard ran the preschool out of Hartly United Methodist Church, while the before- and after-school care service was provided at Hartly Elementary.
But thanks to a unique loan program offered by the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO), Richard was able to open a newly-constructed facility in January that now houses all of her programs and more.
“We wouldn’t be here without that initative,” Richard said. “It made a huge difference.”
Richard will hold a grand opening celebration for Hartly Family Learning Center at 21 North Street on Wednesday with guest of honor Gov. Jack Markell, who will use the event to highlight the DEDO loan program.
“I’m very excited about that,” she said. “I was very excited to hear that he’s coming. He’s going to do a photo with the kids.”
Funding for the learning center’s construction was provided through a $186,000 loan from Dover Federal Credit Union, which in turn was made possible by DEDO’s State Small Business Credit Initative (SSBCI).
Rachel Mears, DEDO’s director of capital resources, said the program works by assisting small businesses that otherwise might be turned down for loan due to insufficient collateral or an unproven track record.
The bank needs another party to take on the funding for part of the loan to make the deal less risky, she said. That’s where the SSBCI comes in.
The Delaware Economic Development Office provides a portion of the funding for the loan by using a U.S. Department of the Treasury grant issued to the agency in 2011.
“We’re touching businesses that are ready and able to finance expansions or startups,” she said. “We’re able to get them to point where they can receive funding. They’re credit worthy to do so. They just need a boost. It’s like training wheels for a borrower.”
The SSBCI program program has been used in all three of Delaware’s counties and to date has helped between 25 and 30 businesses get financing, Mears said.
Richard received her loan in December 2012 and used a portion of the funding to launch a contracting company called MCL Enterprises with her husband Michael. The remaining funds were used to construct the 6,375-square-foot building the corner of North Street and Hartly Road that now houses the Hartly Family Learning Center.
Richard now employees 14 people at the learning center, which cares for 56 children.
In addition to providing part-time preschool and before- and after-school care, the learning center also offers summer programs, music lessons and yoga classes, while the facility also can be rented out for community events.
“We [didn’t] have a community center that is for the people,” she said. “We [didn’t] have much in the way of child care options either. So what we really want to do is have a place that the community can come to, because we’re rural … I just [felt] that we [needed] something here.”