Maryland officials and six of the state's leading banks unveiled a major new financing program yesterday that will provide more than $22 million in low-interest loans for minority business ventures during the next three years.
Minority businesses based in Maryland may apply for loans for working capital or for equipment purchases but not for real estate under the program, which officials outlined at a news conference in Baltimore.
The program, which sponsors described as the first of its kind in the country, will combine a substantial commitment of funds from the private sector and loan guarantees by the state. The six banks, which include Suburban Bank in Bethesda, have committed $7.5 million for loans in the first year and an additional $15 million during the next three years.
Loan guarantees up to 80 percent will be provided by the state, which has established an initial fund of $2.5 million for that purpose. A like amount will be added to the guarantee fund on July 1, and another $2.5 million has been earmarked for next year by the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development.
Minority firms that qualify for the loans may borrow as little as $5,000 and a maximum of $500,000 for terms up to 10 years. Although loans will be subject to a floating rate, interest will be limited to 1 percent above the prime rate. Borrowers may be eligible in some cases for state-subsidized interest payments of up to 4 percent.
The loan program will be administered by Development Credit Fund Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation established solely for that purpose. Administrative costs will be covered initially by a $125,000 operating grant from the city of Baltimore.
Daniel P. Henson III, chairman of the new corporation, said the program will "lead to more equitable distribution of the economic assets" in Maryland. It is also an effort to increase the number of minority firms, which presently account for only 2 percent of all businesses in Maryland, Henson added.
The lending program evolved from a study of minority business problems by the Greater Baltimore Committee, an independent association of business leaders. The program will address a major problem highlighted by that study, namely debt and equity, said Alan P. Hoblitzell Jr., president of Maryland National Bank and former chairman of the GBC's subcommittee on minority business.
Other banks participating in the program are Maryland National, Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust Co., Union Trust Co., Equitable Bank and First National Bank of Maryland.