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Region's first Native-led loan fund creating opportunities

Opening a business can be a challenge for even the most privileged of people. One operation in Rapid City wants to help level the playing field for people from all backgrounds.

The Black Hills Community Loan Fund is a Native CDFI, or community development financial institution, aiming to help provide financial opportunities to the historically underserved local Native community.

Barbara Schmitt is the executive director. She said real change comes to communities when economic development is put into local hands.

“We recently had a market study done on the He Sapa (Black Hills) region, and it showed the definite need for loan products as well as technical assistance to assist individuals pursuing business opportunities," Schmitt said. "Starting up businesses, expanding businesses, and by us providing those technical assistance and loan products to those individuals, they’re able to increase their quality of life.”

Schmitt said Native-owned businesses can take advantage of the tourism and arts markets in Rapid City, but the challenge often comes in establishing the groundwork. And that’s where the Community Loan Fund steps in.

However, there are some requirements for people looking to get involved with the program.

“We provide financial literacy training on an as-needed basis and we’re trying to get a schedule twice a month," Schmitt said. "They’re six-hour courses, we start from business 101, we do banking, setting up a budget – everything individuals will need to further their life. Financial literacy is key, and it is also a requirement for any of our loans we provide.”

Statistics from the US Small Business Administration deputy administrator Dilawar Syed show of the 33 million small businesses with employees nationwide, only 48,000 are Native-owned.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture