Local community leaders and small business owners joined Working Solutions and Wells Fargo Bank to celebrate the launch of a new initiative to expand access to capital and business skill-building services to rural businesses in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin counties. The event, hosted by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, was attended by Vice-Chair of the Sonoma Board of Supervisors Shirlee Zane, as well as a representative from Supervisor Gore’s office, and was catered by Working Solutions small business client Windsor-based Mama Tina's Ravioli.
Working Solutions CEO Emily Gasner and Sonoma County Economic Development Board Executive Director Ben Stone opened the program by explaining the crucial importance of affordable capital to small business success. “Access to capital for entrepreneurs through programs like Working Solutions helps meet one of the primary needs for Sonoma County businesses to start, grow, and expand here,” said Stone. Working Solutions has provided over $600,000 in loans to Sonoma County small businesses since 2014 — 48% of which went to female entrepreneurs and 83% to low-or-moderate income entrepreneurs. Supervisor Zane underscored the importance of a thriving small business sector in Sonoma County, explaining that business ownership is about more than financial success— it is “about dignity, respect, and supporting the ones you love.”
The Rural Investment for Sustainable Economies (RISE) initiative, sponsored by Wells Fargo, will allow Working Solutions, with help from community partners like the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, to expand the current reach of their microlending services into harder to reach rural areas. Wells Fargo Bank's North Bay Area President, Ashoo Vaid, presented Working Solutions CEO Emily Gasner with a $50,000 check to launch this initiative, and made an exciting surprise announcement — that Wells Fargo has approved Working Solutions for a $1 MM EQ2 — a below-market long-term investment in lending capital to further expand the organization’s microloan program. “Wells Fargo understands the importance of small businesses to help generate job growth and build a vibrant local economy,” said Vaid. “This grant will go a long way to help strengthen Working Solutions’ efforts to provide business consulting services to entrepreneurs in rural communities.” Wells Fargo Bank representatives Chris Larocca, Senior Vice President and Business Banking Manager, a member of the Working Solutions Board of Directors, and Katy Fitzsimmons, Assistant Vice President and Community Relations Manager, discussed Wells Fargo’s 15-year support of Working Solutions’ programs through funding and employee engagement, and underscored Wells Fargo's commitment to rural economies.
The Sonoma County small business community was well represented at the event, showing their support for Working Solutions’ unique funding and consulting program. Tina Eliason of Mama Tina's Ravioli discussed the challenges and joys of small business ownership, and praised Working Solutions' model of coupling low-interest microloans with intensive personalized business consulting. Tina praised the model, noting that Working Solutions “lends you the money and then continues working with you to make sure you stay on track and stay motivated."
Other Working Solutions small business clients attending the event included Sebastopol-based Hip Chick Farms, Windsor-based Firefly Chocolate, Windsor-based Sea of Change, Sonoma-based Sonoma Gymnastics, Sebastopol-based Nexo Advertising, Penngrove-based Peacecock Bakery, and Santa Rosa-based Taqueria Molcajetes, representing the variety and diversity of Working Solutions small business clients in Sonoma County.
Laurie O’Hara, Working Solutions Director of Business Development, is leading the new initiative to reach more rural North Bay businesses. “Our current North Bay small business clients are such a unique mix of industries and experience— and we love to see the impact that they have on job growth and economic development in this region. We’re so excited to be able to connect more small businesses with resources and continue to build community through our work.”