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Seed money grows green
Regional microlender loans offered for eco-friendly businesses
Maria Greene is the owner of The Mill, a coffee and herb shop in Cleveland. She was able to get a Green Loan through Appalachian Community Enterprises, a regional microlender based in Cleveland, to help open her business. - photo by Harris Blackwood

CLEVELAND - Israel Greene had found a niche business installing custom-made doors and windows.

Then, last year, the door company that provided most of his jobs had to close due to the nationwide housing slump.
Greene, 35, saw an opportunity.

"The sales people from both Atlanta and Birmingham asked if we had a source for these doors," Greene said. "We created that source and started manufacturing."

The doors, which are insulated with eco-friendly foam and have efficient argon-filled glass installed in the frames, qualified the enterprise for a Green Loan through Appalachian Community Enterprises, a regional microlender based in Cleveland. The loans are backed by funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Just this week, Greene and his employees moved into a 1,500-square-foot warehouse that will serve as their manufacturing plant. He has orders for at least four doors, which range in price from $7,000 to $9,000.

The massive doors are fabricated from steel, all of which is from the U.S. and includes some recycled steel. The foam beads that insulate the doors are also recycled products.

"Every component of our metal and glass doors is American made," Greene said. "No one else is building these doors in the U.S." He said his primary competition is lesser quality doors imported from countries like China.

"We went from 25 hour average on the guys who work for us to 35 to 40 hours a week," he said. The shop has six employees.
Greene has used his loan to purchase a large drill press that has already been delivered. He is awaiting delivery of a high-powered saw capable of cutting steel.

"We build doors that are custom size for people who want to upgrade," he said, adding that he is working on stock sizes for new construction. He envisions building a line of doors for more modestly priced homes.

He says he is learning many lessons in the changing times.

"I've learned that if you don't change as fast as the economy you're going to fail," he said.

Across town, his mother, Maria Greene, opened an organic coffee shop and herb store using the same loan program.
The Mill, as the store is known, began business in January and caters to a variety of customers, including students at nearby Truett-McConnell College.

"The response has been amazing," said Maria Greene. "It's been far better than I expected."

The shop, located in the Piggly Wiggly shopping center, offers a variety of coffees, cappuccino and espresso. The business also stocks a selection of more than 100 herbs for various needs.

Georgia Green Loans, the program utilized by the Greenes, was founded to help businesses either create or expand an eco-friendly product or service or to make existing business processes "green."

Grace Fricks, president of Appalachian Community Enterprises, said the microlender, which can make loans up to $35,000, has been integral to the success of a number of start-up small businesses.

"As President (Barack) Obama has explained, small businesses are a key part of economic recovery," Fricks said.

"When new jobs are created, 70 percent of them come from small businesses. Entrepreneurs like the Greenes are making a difference in their local communities providing livelihoods for others. Their commitment also benefits our environment and represents real innovation."

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