C7a Makes Its First SBA Small Business Loans

February 1, 2016–CEI 7(a) Financing LLC (“C7a”), a Small Business Administration 7(a) lender, today announced it has closed its first two transactions and has grown its staff since launching in 2015.

The first transaction was a $1 million SBA 7(a) loan that allows longtime restaurant owners Selina and Lam Lum to purchase the Sarasota, Florida building they had been leasing to operate their award winning Taste of Asia Restaurant. Without this loan the Lums would have been forced to relocate their family business, and abandon a variety of capital improvements and brand equity that they built.

“We’ve worked so hard to establish the restaurant and to improve the space, it’s a dream come true to own the building,” said Mrs. Lum. “It’s an enormous weight off our minds not to have to worry about whether the lease will be renewed or how the rent might change.  We can focus our energy on our business and our customers now.”

In the second transaction C7a facilitated was a $250,000 SBA 7(a) loan to enable a specialty metals fabricator servicing the architectural and construction industries to be acquired as its founder was retiring. The successful transition of ownership also served to preserve the jobs for the ten employees working at the purchased business, which might not have happened if the firm had closed or had been purchased by a larger competitor.  

In both cases, neither business owner was able to secure traditional bank financing. The SBA 7(a) program provides the flexibility to finance business transactions that traditional bank lenders might have a hard time underwriting due to a variety of reasons ranging from lack of collateral to a limited business track record or the need for longer than conventional terms.

Colette Twigg-Rowse of C7a who is responsible for credit and portfolio management describes the Lum family’s purchase as a classic 7(a) financing. “Although they are experienced restaurateurs, they had been operating in that location for less than three years and their finances are just recovering from the turmoil of the great recession. They run a good business but, as an ex-banker, I’m not surprised that they were unable to get a loan from a bank,” she said.

Similarly, the need to transition ownership upon the retirement of the metal working business’ founder also follows a trend in SBA lending. “It’s very rewarding to see successful ownership transitions like this where the retiring owner can ‘cash out’ some of the value they’ve worked to create over the years and the next generation steps in all fired up and ready take the business into a new era. I know the new owner intends to be in a position to grow the business and hire more people in the coming years,” Twigg-Rowse added.

As C7a establishes its market presence it has hired Mary Childs-Mayer as its Origination and Relationship Manager. A senior member of the C7a team, Mary is responsible for developing and managing the company’s origination partnerships and transaction pipeline. She joins from National Development Council, a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) where she held a variety of progressive responsibilities for two decades.

Experience in the CDFI field is especially important as C7a seeks to partner with a diverse network of partners to identify lending opportunities, including peer CDFIs that share a community development mission. Indeed, the Lum family was introduced to C7a by a Sarasota-area CDFI.

“We’re a national SBA 7(a) lender but our model is different from most” explained C7a’s CEO, Rob Wilson. “We partner with mission based lenders and organizations across the U.S. to identify lending opportunities because we believe that local connections with the community are vital. C7a is owned by a non-profit CDFI and that heritage means we understand mission oriented lenders and community development lending pretty well, which makes for good partnerships.”

About C7a

C7a is one of a small number of non-bank lenders licensed by the Small Business Association to participate in the SBA’s flagship 7(a) loan guarantee program. C7a shares a mission with its non-profit parent organization, Coastal Enterprises Inc. (“CEI”), to help individuals and communities reach their full potential. By providing small business loans of up to $2,500,000 throughout the contiguous U.S., C7a broadens the financial product offerings of, and brings increased lending capacity to, C7a’s local partners, that include community organizations, CDFI’s, community loan funds, and banks.  In turn these partners connect C7a with the local communities and make it a more effective lender.

For information contact Rob Wilson, 207 253 7715 or

Register Now for CEI’s 38th Annual Meeting

January 16, 2016–Please join CEI as we celebrate 38 years of community-based economic development from civil rights to sustainable solutions. The Annual Meeting will be held on March 15 in Thorne Dining Hall at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. We are excited to welcome keynote speaker Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, and an all star cast of panelists including Senator George Mitchell, Lisa Mensah, Undersecretary, USDA Rural Development, and the U.S Treasury’s CDFI Fund Director Annie Donovan.

Check this space again soon for additional information and please note that this year’s meeting will include LUNCH and not breakfast.

Register here to secure your ticket

Annual Meeting Image

Impact Investing: GreenMoney Journal Dialogue Featuring Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden

January 5, 2016–The evolution of impact investing and reflections on a life long commitment to community economic development are the subjects of a GreenMoney Journal conversation between CEI President and CEO Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden, former Managing Director of CEI Investment Notes, Inc., and CEI SVP, who stepped away from the organization after 37 years in December. The full article can be found here.

Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden

Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden


On #GivingTuesday, Help CEI Harness Maine’s Food Potential

November 18, 2015 – Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) aims to raise at least $20,000 dollars for Maine’s farmers and food system businesses through a Crowdrise Fundraising Challenge sponsored by Newman’s Own Foundation that will take place between November 24 and December 1.

Donors can contribute at

The online fundraiser is open to anyone, anywhere as part of #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving designed to encourage philanthropy and celebrate generosity worldwide. Newman’s Own Foundation has pledged to match up to $10,000 of donations made to CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program.

CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program helps build the foundations of Maine’s local food systems through flexible loans, technical assistance, and programs like the Healthy Food Finance Program that brings farm fresh food to underserved populations. The funds raised will be used to help CEI create economic opportunity for young farmers and food related businesses in rural Maine. Reversing a generational decline, today there are 2,000 more Maine farms with 100 thousand more acres in production than there were 30 years ago. The number of young farmers – under 35 years old – has increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012.

“Global food security starts on the farm and requires a strong and vibrant system that supports farmers, producers, the value chain, consumers and the environment,’’ said Gray Harris, Director of CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program. “In the rural state of Maine, that means providing capital and technical assistance to smaller, low-income players in innovative farm-food businesses, helping them to increase production, create a livelihood, and connect to markets.”

This year #GivingTuesday takes place December 1, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. The event is designed to inspire people to collaborate in improving their local communities and to give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support.

The fundraiser to help harness Maine’s food potential is hosted on CrowdRise, a crowd-fundraising platform for nonprofits. A total of 24 organizations were selected to participate by Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman.

C7a Hires Mary Childs-Mayer as Origination & Relationship Manager

November 17, 2015–CEI 7(a) Financing LLC (C7a), CEI’s SBA 7(a) lending subsidiary, recently hired Mary Childs-Mayer as its Origination and Relationship Manager. As a senior member of the C7a team, Mary is responsible for developing and managing the company’s origination partnerships and transaction pipeline.

“I’m thrilled to be joining C7a at such an exciting time,” said Mary Childs-Mayer. “I know and admire many employees of CEI and its affiliates, and I’ve worked with them on projects and industry boards and working groups. Serving on CEI Capital Managment’s Advisory Board and C7a’s Board of Directors gave great insights into the family of CEI affiliated companies.”

Mary joins C7a from the National Development Council where she started as an intern over two decades ago. As her career advanced she held a wide variety of positions including Relationship Manager/Loan Officer, Portfolio Manager of the Grow America Fund, Deputy CFO, and Director of Government Relations.

Mary Childs-Mayer

Mary Childs-Mayer

Rob Wilson, who leads C7a, welcomed Mary, saying, “we’re incredibly fortunate to attract someone like Mary who is not only passionately committed to the role of Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) and mission based lenders in the economy, but also has first class relationship, business development and lending skills. Her reputation in the industry and wide network of friends, colleagues, and collaborators throughout the economic development community will be invaluable.”

Mary summarized her new role as: “to make the fully fledged 7(a) loan products, small business loans up to $5 million, available to CDFIs and mission lenders across the country. It is particularly exciting that in addition to expanding our partners’ range of small business lending products we can help them create earned income opportunities.” She added, “The policy intent of 7(a) program, to provide a source of affordable financing to small businesses who cannot obtain reasonably priced debt elsewhere, is strongly aligned with C7a’s and CEI’s mission.”

Mary can be reached at

Acadia Harvest Awarded $744,000 and Named Fish 2.0 Finalist!

November 2, 2015– The National Science Foundation (NSF) of Washington, D.C., has again named Acadia Harvest Inc. (AHI) the recipient of a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.  The grant will be used by AHI to continue its efforts to develop innovative fish feeds for its growing land-based aquaculture business.  The award will provide approximately $744,000 in funding over the next two years.

The company has also been named a finalist in the international competition, Fish 2.0.  A semifinalist is 2013, AHI has again participated in this competition to further develop its business plans and to gain exposure to investors and lenders with interests in the sustainable aquaculture sector.  The finals of Fish 2.0 will be held November 10 – 11 in Palo Alto, CA.  

AHI secured the original Phase I award from NSF for this aquafeed project in 2013, with total funding of $270,000 for project. The company was successful in developing experimental feed formulations and running growth trials with California yellowtail and black sea bass grown in collaboration with the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) facility in Franklin, ME.  Another important partner in the project is Dr. Rick Barrows, an expert in fish nutrition with the USDA’s Fish Technology Center in Bozeman, Montana.  The principle investigator for the project is Taylor A. Pryor, Chief Scientist of AHI.

An important part of this research and development work is to lower the use of forage fish meal and oil in aquafeeds.  With growing use of fish meal in aquaculture, and in poultry and swine production, there is great interest in reducing the impact on species such as anchovies, herring and menhaden that are important in the ocean food chain.  AHI has experimented with a range of agricultural and marine byproducts to gauge their suitability as aquafeed ingredients.  As part of the project, AHI will develop species-specific feeds tailored to the nutritional needs of its California yellowtail and black sea bass.

“We are excited by the opportunity presented with this new grant from NSF,” said Ed Robinson, Chairman and CEO of Acadia Harvest.  “Our customers are increasingly focused not only upon the quality of our seafood, but the degree to which our products may be considered sustainable.  We are working hard to meet the technical goals of this NSF project, while helping to improve the economics of land-based aquaculture.”

Acadia Harvest was formed in 2011 for the purpose of growing high quality marine seafood using land-based, indoor production methods.  The company has been selling California yellowtail and black sea bass for test marketing purposes since 2013 and is increasing production as 2016 approaches.  The company intends to build a commercial scale plant in the village of Corea, ME in 2016-2017.  In March of 2015, AHI was awarded its first NSF Phase II SBIR grant of $657,000 for the company’s work toward zero waste production technology.  The company is nearing completion of the installation for this project and will soon be adding a range of marine species to the system for extended testing.  Support from the Maine Technology Institute and Coastal Enterprises Inc. has been critical to the company’s development to date, in the form of financial assistance and expert consultation.  

Contact: Ed Robinson, phone: 207-522-9342, email:

New Market Tax Credits Helping to Reinvent Rural Economies

By Charlie Spies,  
Read this article on The Daily Yonder


New Market Tax Credits help reinvent rural economies through access to capital.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The federal New Market Tax Credit program is currently up for annual renewal by Congress. Separate legislation seeks to make the tax credit permanent. This article in favor of the program is by the CEO of an organization that helps groups use the New Market Tax Credit to invest in local businesses.

Given the economic challenges facing rural communities, one might expect that world-class innovation could only be found on the wealthier urban settings like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York’s tristate area. The current trend of infusing capital and creating jobs in metro hubs like these has led to the shallowing of economies in the remaining “fly-over states” – places bypassed when those with financial fly elsewhere to invest in urban opportunities.

The consequences are visible throughout rural America. When shallow economies lose their core economic base, they face a variety of challenges that erode the community, the costliest being out-migration: when younger workers move away to seek better prospects, leaving an aging population and dwindling resources behind.

Good news is on the horizon, though. Through the use of New Markets Tax Credits, forward-thinking enterprises are reinventing rural communities through public-private partnerships that attract new investment capital, support new enterprises and diversify economies.

The advanced technologies, innovation, and ingenuity funded through the program represent nearly every industry sector of the economy, from healthcare and hotels to manufacturing and agriculture. Not only are New Markets Tax Credits helping build job-creating enterprises, they’re also causing a ripple effect throughout the broader rural communities they serve.

Farming Investments

Take for instance the classic rural industry: farming. Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy sought start-up financing in 2011 to establish a Greek yogurt manufacturing plant in rural Vermont. At that time, lending options were scarce as the nation’s economy was struggling to find its footing. Undeterred, the dairy’s founders recognized that the economic benefits of Greek yogurt production would extend well beyond the plant walls. They set out with meaningful yet modest goals for their new enterprise: to create 40 jobs in five years. Yet in four years, Commonwealth Dairy has topped $100 million in revenue, directly employs 125 individuals in Vermont, and now oversees a second factory in Arizona where it employs another 125 people.

Like so many New Markets Tax Credit financed projects, the benefits of the dairy’s success are rippling beyond its four walls to deliver benefits throughout the value chain. With Commonwealth’s success a cooperative of regional dairy farmers now has a regular customer, keeping its members employed, along with supporting veterinary, logistics, and farm support businesses. Furthermore, Commonwealth donates 5% sales to local nonprofits; it gave $360,000 to the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program last year alone.

Bringing Healthcare to Underserved Areaa

In the early 2000s, Mid-State Health Center in the small town of Plymouth, New Hampshire, was in dire need. The facility, not yet designated as a federally qualified health center, sought funding for a critical expansion of services to its rural communities. Its CEO, Sharon Beaty, got creative. Since the traditional options for healthcare funding were few, she recast the benefits of a new health center – not only would it provide health and wellness services in the area, it would also bring economic opportunity.

Mid-State Health Center

Mid-State Health Center

By demonstrating the community development results, Mid-State was able to construct a new health center with New Markets Tax Credit support. The result of that investment turned out to be even greater than Beaty expected. Mid-State’s employment jumped from 37 to its current 102 people, and the center spurred further community development. Plymouth’s Speare Memorial Hospital built a satellite facility across the street, and many other businesses subsequently opened in the surrounding area, creating dozens of jobs for local residents.

Perhaps most importantly of all for Mid-State, though, residents in the region now have much improved access to primary care. In fact, the center is recognized as a leader in the state for such access. Furthermore, by having a facility large enough to accommodate the community’s growing primary care needs, along with pleasant atmospheres and extra perks like on-site child care, the rural facility is able to attract physicians, formerly one of its biggest challenges.

Natural Resource Industries

Another example of using New Markets Tax Credits to reinvent business in a traditional rural industry is at Associated Hardwoods Inc., a full-service wholesale lumber company headquartered in Cherokee County, South Carolina. With nationwide closures of sawmills straining the availability of raw materials, Associated Hardwoods took the initiative to open its own sawmill in its backyard, where natural resources are abundant. The company built a state-of-the-art mill that uses nearly 100 percent of the raw materials processed, and its energy-efficient technologies and low-waste production process allow the company to substantially reduce energy costs and maximize lumber recovery out of every log.

Associated Hardwoods

Associated Hardwoods lumber company in Cherokee County, South Carolina.

Because the facility employs 17 full-time workers in a census tract where one third of the population lives under the poverty rate and the unemployment rate is nearly double the national average, the project qualified for financing through the New Market Tax Credit program. Today, the average annual wage for employees at the new mill is 60 percent higher than the county living wage and includes overtime, medical insurance, paid vacation, holidays and training opportunities.

The benefits of the project reach far beyond its headquarters, though. The sawmill supplies more than 20% of the raw materials for Associated Hardwoods’ operations in Granite Falls, which mitigates supply-chain risk. Furthermore, the new mill provides a prime location for local loggers to take their loads, which reduces transportation costs. Various local businesses provide maintenance supplies and services.

Rural locales face unique obstacles to revitalization, including a lack of economic diversity and investors, the limited availability of credit, the seasonal nature of employment and geographic isolation. Yet there are hundreds more stories that highlight the New Markets Tax Credit program’s success.

An Opportunity to Extend Tax Credits

The New Markets Tax Credit program has won bipartisan Congressional support as well as the support of county and municipal leaders who recognize how it can attract investment for projects that might otherwise be overlooked. Given the program’s track record and its potential to create and preserve thousands more jobs and improve the quality of life for low-income Americans, Congress can make permanent a program that supports the American dream, especially for those living in our nation’s rural, fly-over states that are so rich in potential opportunity.

Charlie Spies is chief executive officer of CEI Capital Management, LLC.CEI Capital Management provides business capital in rural, low-income communities through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program and the Maine New Markets Capital Investment Program.

CEI Targets Lending in Rim Counties

November 3, 2015–Coastal Enterprises Inc (CEI) has been awarded $800,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services (OCS) to provide a revolving loan fund that will finance expanding businesses and provide workforce technical assistance to rural businesses in Maine’s “rim counties.” Small and mid-sized businesses in need of financing in Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Aroostook and Washington Counties are encouraged to contact CEI. The rim counties continue to experience economic distress, while impacting the welfare of families, businesses and communities alike. The poverty rate for the seven county area is 17.1%, compared to 13.6% for the state and 15.4% for the nation, and the unemployment rate for this region remains significantly higher than that of the remainder of the state.

CEI is targeting investments of these funds in two of Maine’s most important job-generating industries: innovative, value added wood products and nature-based tourism businesses. In order to qualify for loans from this fund, businesses need to be creating full time jobs with a majority targeted to low-income employees at an average cost of $20,000/job created. CEI also intends to dedicate a limited amount of funding for job-specific training resources to support workers entering new jobs.

Vote YES! on Statewide Question 2

October 29, 2015–In less than a week, Maine voters will have a chance to help more low-income seniors stay in their homes or their communities. Statewide Question 2 on the ballot would authorize a $15 million Senior Affordable Housing Bond that would create 225 affordable, energy efficient rental homes for seniors across the state – in both urban and rural areas. The bond would also fund home repair and weatherization, allowing at least 100 seniors to remain in their homes.

CEI wholeheartedly urges voters to support this bond. Our mission is to help create economically and environmentally healthy communities in which all people, especially those with low incomes, can reach their full potential.  In a rapidly aging state with the eight oldest housing stock in the nation, decent, affordable housing for our older citizens is a big part of a healthy community. When a grandmother on a fixed income can’t afford to heat her home, or when an elderly retired couple can no longer afford the market rents and has to leave their hometown, that’s not good for them, and it’s not good for the fabric of our communities.

As a developer and a lender as well as a housing counselor, CEI sees first-hand the need for more housing options for low- and moderate income seniors. When there’s a statewide shortage of 9,000 units for low income seniors, this bond won’t come close to solving the problem. But it will make a difference. State and federal resources are limited, and the private market alone does not and will not create housing that’s affordable to the number of low-income seniors who need it.

One of the aspects of this bond that is particularly important is its rural impact. At least four projects will be built in rural counties where housing resources are scarce and the need is just as great. As a rural, statewide practitioner, CEI is committed to supporting businesses, jobs, and housing all across the state, in every county and in the smaller communities that truly need economic development. If this senior bond passes, it will help provide that economic boost and the hope for seniors to age in dignity and in their own communities.

Please vote YES on statewide Question 2!

Laura Buxbaum is Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Resource Development at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a statewide non-profit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) based in Brunswick.