Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority invests in loan fund to boost small business

Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority invests in loan fund to boost small business

Tuesday Jun 7th, 2016

ERIE, Pa. -- Three Erie companies -- a microbrewery, a day care center and a manufacturer of LED lights -- share one important trait.

Leaders of all three said Tuesday that they owe their existence to funding from Bridgeway Capital, a Pittsburgh-based community development financial institution that has made $6.5 million in loans to Erie businesses since opening a local office four years ago.

The funding pool that helped to launch all three of those businesses got an injection of capital Tuesday that could make up an additional $5 million available to lend.

Perry Wood, executive director of the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, said the group's business initiative, IgniteErie, has invested $1 million in Bridgeway, which will enable it to leverage a total of $5 million to grant loans.

In a news conference Tuesday morning at Gannon University's Center for Business Ingenuity, Wood highlighted business owners who already have been helped by financing from Bridgeway:

- Sean and Kenya Johnson, owners of Learning Ladder Early Child Care, 2502 Peach St.

- Josh Gehly, owner of Green Lighting LED, located in the Erie Technology Incubator.

- Jeff McCullor, co-owner of Erie Ale Works, 416 W. 12th St.

Owners of all three businesses said they had been unable to find financing elsewhere.

Sean Johnson said financing from Bridgeway, which is able to lend money on the strength of an idea or based on the promise of a purchase order, helped his business grow in just two years from eight clients to 65. Today, the company has 10 employees, including eight who work full time.

Gehly said financing from Bridgeway has functioned as a line of credit, enabling his business, which has sold LED lighting to two U.S. Air Force bases, to cover the expense of filling big orders.

The money invested by ECGRA and IgniteErie will be used to create the Erie Growth Fund, which will fund entrepreneur loans of up to $50,000.

The Erie Growth Fund also will provide growth loans, averaging $250,000, which will be available to help existing businesses expand and add employees.

Finally, Bridgeway will also offer community development loans to help finance commercial real estate projects in low-income areas.

At a time when segments of the local economy are struggling, Wood said he sees funding that will help entrepreneurs and small businesses as a top priority.

"It's what we do when we're down that matters," he said.

Despite the fact that some of Bridgeway's loans are unsecured, the organization's track record in Erie has been a good one, said T.J. King, director of Bridgeway's Erie office.

King said of $6.5 million in loans made in Erie, only one loan -- for $30,000 -- has defaulted.

Brian Slawin, regional director of the northwestern Pennsylvania region of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, called the IgniteErie announcement great news, based on the potential for job creation with a minimal investment.

For more information or to apply for a loan from Bridgeway, contact King at or 451-1172.

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