For over 20 years, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE) has empowered entrepreneurship in Appalachian Georgia through small business loans to candidates who might otherwise be overlooked. ACE’s founder, Grace Fricks, is a former social worker, who made it the organization’s mission to target support to women, people of color and low-to-moderate income business owners. “ACE was founded in Appalachia and we remain committed to building strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in communities where opportunities are limited,” Fricks said. “For many, entrepreneurship is their surest path to economic security, and our goal is to provide them with the tools needed – access to capital and business development support – to achieve their financial goals and contribute to their communities.”
This mission was already critical in an area experiencing high poverty rates and a lagging recovery after the 2008 recession. The onset of COVID-19, however, made ACE’s support of local business owners more important than ever.
Before the pandemic, ACE was already offering specialized services to meet unique economic needs. The 2008 housing crash brought Northwest Georgia’s flooring manufacturing industry down with it. Some ten years later, poverty rates were still particularly high among certain groups reliant on those industries, including the Hispanic community. To increase capital access and ensure equitable access to business services, with the support of ARC funding, ACE hired a bilingual business development officer.
Offering technical assistance in both English and Spanish proved critical as COVID-19 slammed local business. ACE was able to quickly mobilize and help entrepreneurs struggling to respond, shift business models and access federal assistance. From March 2020 to February 2021, ACE has provided almost $1.1 million in capital to 14 small businesses and deployed an additional $174,000 in Payment Protection Program loans to eight businesses, helping retain over 50 jobs in the area. The organization has also worked to increase the digital proficiency of its clients, training them on Zoom and other tools that empower them to enhance business operations, access more federal assistance opportunities, and safely receive continued virtual support from ACE.
ARC has long supported ACE and its pivotal role as an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. Just as entrepreneurs are known for their resilience, so is the Appalachian Region and its people. It takes groups like ACE, who ensure equitable access to entrepreneurial opportunities, to help Appalachians of all backgrounds realize and sustain that incredible potential, even through a global pandemic.