By Kayla Collins

OXFORD HILLS — Do you dream of owning your own business? Or are you looking to expand your already existing business? 

Or perhaps you would like to acquire an existing business? 

The Community Concepts Finance Corporation (CCFC), located in Paris, can help make your dream a reality through a program called The Business Lending Center, says Dennis Lajoie, CEO of CCFC. 

Community Concepts is the parent corporation,” says Lajoie. “Under the finance corporation, we have various loan pools — sources of money to lend to small and medium-sized businesses.” 

While the lending center is capable of serving businesses in any Maine County, it’s primary target is businesses looking to open or expand in Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford Counties.

According to Lajoie, CCFC offers loan amounts from $500-$250,000-plus, through its collaboration with other local lending institutions. 

“It’s for starting a business, expanding a business; or if your current business has some issues with cash flow, we provide technical assistance,” says Lajoie. 

CCFC does partnerships with SCORE, a local non-profit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses, and with Women, Work, and Community, a statewide organization that helps individuals recognize strengths, overcome barriers, find resources, develop a plan, and take action towards their goals for starting a business. 

According to Lajoie, SCORE is a resource partner with the US Small Business Administration (SBA). Community Concepts, he says, has been an SBA lender since the 80s. 

“We have a number of [different] types of loan programs,” says Lajoie. Generally though, since CCFC has various pots of money, “CCFC doesn’t have people apply for that pot. We just say, ‘Come on in, let’s talk about your business needs, and let us decide, based on what you’re eligible for’. … Unless you are a business that’s illegal, we can make almost any type of business loan,” he said.  

Together, CCFC can help businesses or entrepreneurs with everything from logistics, creating a business plan, operations, marketing and more. 

No matter how small or large a business’ lending needs are, CCFC can help get the financing one needs to help their business take off, says Lajoie. 

Success stories

The relocation of Crazy Horse Racing in Paris, says Lajoie, is one success story owed to CCFC. 

The business, owned and operated by Mitch and Judy Green of Norway, is a race car fabrication company that recently moved from Andover to Paris to save on operating costs and to be closer to its target market.  

Crazy Horse works with Oxford Plains Speedway installing generic parts on race cars and fabricating cars. Thanks to CCFC, Mitch and Judy were able to move their business into a 224-square-foot new retail space and 2,704-square foot of operating space for vehicle repair and fabrication. 

With their new working capital, the Greens were also able to purchase office equipment, safety equipment, fabrication machinery, a compressor, and a lift which have already had a significant impact on more effective operations. 

“They helped us purchase the equipment that we needed to start up down here in South Paris,” said Judy. “It was a very big piece of the puzzle for our move from Andover.”

“Our intention was to get back to Oxford Hills, where we live. We found the building to move into — we just had to purchase equipment.”  

Crazy Horse relocated in December of 2011, and just this past November, the Greens acquired the rest of the building.  

“While we were in Andover, we just rented the space there,” said Judy. “They [CCFC] allowed us to buy the equipment so we could move on our own.” 

“They were a great help,” agrees Pat Paine, who with her mother, runs Hill Top Pools and Spas in West Paris. 

Hill Top Pools and Spas was established in 1996, and by 2006, had relocated from Route 219 to a more visible location on Route 26. 

“After the economy went downhill, we were trying to restructure what we had for debt,” says Paine.  

In 2009, real estate values plummeted and sales dropped substantially, which Paine said had caused the company to experience challenging times. 

“We used to buy more ahead of time, and when the economy went bad, we got stuck with a lot of inventory. It made it difficult to get things paid off when people weren’t buying.”

But with a loan from CCFC, Hill Top Pools and Spas was able to refinance debt and renew vendor lines of credit.  

“They were great at helping us restructure how we were doing business,” said Paine. “I don’t want it sound bad, like we are having trouble; but then again, we were at a situation where we could’ve had a really hard time if it wasn’t for them helping us out.” 

Now, says Paine, “things are constantly improving.” 

Financial support 

Lajoie, who’s worked for CCFC since 1982, but became CEO in February, says that business people aren’t concerned about the source of their funds; they care about whether their business is eligible for “any kind of financing.” 

That’s where CCFC comes in. 

“We’re the starting point for people who are having trouble getting financing,” says Lajoie. 

But with CCFC, individuals aren’t applying for a specific loan pool. 

“You just apply through us,” he said. “We may have 10 different sources of funds that we could loan to you. It’s not one loan pool, it’s many.” 

A lot of the time, he said, if a business isn’t quite ready, CCFC also offers businesses no-cost counseling services in all stages of development. 

“We tend to not turn people down automatically, because they don’t have two years of financials. We like to work with people for a while,” says Lajoie. 

The goal of CCFC, he says, “is to get people to a certain point in time, where they don’t need us anymore. So, their business grows, and then the next time they need to expand their business, they can go to a regular commercial bank [for help.]” 

According to Glen Holmes, director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, WMEDC and the CCFC work closely together to support and expand existing businesses. 

“One of the big benefits I offer, if a business is struggling, is to contact me,” said Holmes.

Alot of the time, though, if a business is struggling financially, Holmes will refer businesses to CCFC. 

“If it’s bankable, then they [CCFC] recommend [businesses] to go to a bank. But if they are struggling to the point that they need our assistance, because it may be a little more risky, then CCFC can take care of those issues.” 

“Sometimes we are the only lender, and sometimes we partner on deals where it makes sense,” said Lajoie. “Anything to do with running your business, starting your business, we can do.” 

Reprinted with permission from The Advertiser-Democrat