October 7, 2019|By Marten Jenkins | Finance

NCIFund Partners to Grow Resilient Local Communities in Appalachia and the Southeast

As the economic landscape continues to shift, NCIFund’s support has become more critical than ever. Through flexible financing and advisory services, we offer women and entrepreneurs of color, rural communities, and economically-distressed urban areas the support they need to address their unique challenges. By working with a wide range of partners to support successful green businesses and vital service providers, together we’re creating economic opportunity that’s good for our communities and our environment.

NCIFund’s 2018 Impact Report highlights the successes of this unique approach: Since 2001, we’ve invested $59.1 million into 301 businesses and nonprofits, creating or retaining 5,368 jobs along the way. Those loans have supported healthy, local food systems, leveled the playing field for women and people of color to create new businesses, led to redeveloped downtowns and expanded innovative renewable energy opportunities

The 2018 “Partnering for Impact” report recognizes the importance of NCIFund’s network of community partners who contribute to the successes of its portfolio companies; their contributions are noted throughout the report.

The Impact Report highlights a number of entrepreneurs who are creating meaningful and lasting change with their enterprises. In 2018, 55% of NCIFund’s loans went to women and entrepreneurs of color—who historically have been underfunded compared to white and male-owned businesses—to help them grow their small businesses and build wealth for their families and communities.  

Claude Coleman, Jr. is one such entrepreneur. As the drummer for the alt-rock band Ween, Coleman came to love Asheville, North Carolina’s eclectic and growing music scene. But, he noticed that rehearsal space was very hard to come by. So, he and his business partner Brett Spivey founded Sound Space LLC, a recording studio and practice space in the building that once housed Rabbit’s Motel. Started in the 1940s, Rabbit’s was the only lodging available to Negro Southern League baseball players and other African-American visitors to Asheville during Jim Crow. Rabbit’s soul food kitchen was a local legend in the area, with “pork chops as thick as Bibles.”

10 7 19 2018 Sound Space Asheville Robin McKinney006

Claude Coleman, Jr., drummer for alt-rock band Ween, in front of Sound Space’s future practice studios. Photo by Eric Wuestewald.

NCIFund provided Sound Space with a loan to renovate and repair the two buildings that housed the motel and restaurant. The newly established business will sell musical equipment, rent practice space in former motel rooms, and coordinate lessons and workshops. Additionally, a local chef is opening a soul food restaurant, and local artists plan to commemorate the unique history of the building with murals and galleries.

Kacy Korczyk is another entrepreneur making a difference in her community. Korczyk’s On-Point Acupuncture Clinic in Beckley, West Virginia offers alternative pain management and wellness services. NCIFund and partner United Bank funded Korczyk’s expansion to a new facility with four times the space, creating four new jobs.  

10 7 19 Kacy HomePageKacy Korczyk, owner of On-Point Acupuncture Clinic. Photo courtesy of On-Point Acupuncture Clinic.

NCIFund believes funding and technical assistance are both needed to level the playing field so historically underserved entrepreneurs can contribute to stronger, more resilient communities. In addition to direct one-on-one assistance from staff and third-party experts, NCIFund utilizes Strategic Initiatives, which combine dedicated capital with targeted technical assistance, to focus on sectors or geographies in particular need.  

In West Virginia, where the loss of coal industry jobs and hope have taken a huge toll on the health and economy of small communities, NCIFund initiatives are helping a new generation of entrepreneurs create enterprises with the potential to replace coal’s role as the region’s economic mainstay. For example, 50,000 off-road enthusiasts travel annually to southern West Virginia to ride the 700+ mile long off-highway vehicle trail system known as the Hatfield-McCoy Trails. For five years, we’ve partnered with the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority on the Southern West Virginia Tourism Initiative. With funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission POWER Initiative, the Initiative’s combined capital and advisory services support entrepreneurs building lodging, rental shops, and other infrastructure Hatfield-McCoy riders need, while creating jobs and hope.

In North Carolina, to help small growers rebuild their farms following hurricanes Florence and Michael, we launched the RESEED Recovery Fund, in partnership with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and RAFI-USA. RESEED provided low interest loans and financial counseling so farmers could replace lost crops and income. 

Overall, in 2018, 75% of our loans went to support businesses in economically distressed communities and 69% went to rural businesses. 

10 7 19 NCIF Williamson Sport Outfitters c Sam Levitan 040518 0812 1Downtown Williamson, West Virginia. Photo by Sam Levitan.

NCIFund also focuses on entrepreneurs who recycle, reduce waste, and generate renewable energy. Entrepreneur Dylan Gehrken does exactly that while creating jobs and positive environmental impact. His company, Greasecycle, collects and processes millions of pounds of used cooking oil and waste trap grease from North Carolina restaurants every year, providing companies with an affordable and environmentally responsible way to dispose of their waste. NCIFund’s 2012 loan funded the construction of Greasecycle’s Raleigh, North Carolina refinery, where it cleans and resells these waste products as biofuel or compost, while protecting water quality in the Neuse River watershed.

10 7 19 psGrease Cycle c Bill Bamberger20170329 2 9Dylan Gehrken, founder of Greasecycle, stands in front of a grease trap waste system in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Bill Bamberger.

The business has grown from four employees to 18, and from servicing 350 restaurants to 1,700 accounts in a 175-mile area. In 2018, Greasecycle was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States and is a true triple bottom line success story: outsized environmental impact, quality employment and financial success.

You can read about all these entrepreneurs and more in the NCIFund Impact Report and on our website at ncifund.org.

Written By

Marten Jenkins

Marten Jenkins is President and CEO of the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund), a subsidiary of The Conservation Fund. In addition to his work for the NCIFund, Marten serves on the Board of Appalachian Community Capital and CEI Capital Management, LLC, and on West Virginia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Advisory Board. Previously, he was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and a research assistant for the World Bank in the Environmental Policy and Research Division.