Arcata Chamber of Commerce Director Joellen Clark-Peterson interviews Arcata Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) Executive Director Ross Welch. AEDC is a 34-year Chamber member.
What is AEDC?
We are an economic development corporation. Our primary service is providing small business loans for those can’t get them through traditional means. We do that by offering a variety of products from microloans for as little as $5,000, to loans for commercial property that are over $1 million.
Our mission is purposefully broad so can look at the needs in our region and ask, “What kind of good things do we want to do?”
Locally, our community development programs have included FoodWorks, Humboldt Harvest (a predecessor to Humboldt Made) and Lemonade Day. We have also started funding community development projects like the Open Door Clinic, Arcata Fire and the Hoopa Grocery Store.
We serve as a leader in economic development issues by partnering with other agencies to address topics that are of interest to local business and industry.
When AEDC started in 1978, we did. Not long after, we became an independent non-profit and we grew as we saw a need.
Not only is our scope larger than Arcata, our region actually includes six counties including Humboldt, Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, Mendocino and Lake.
How are you different from a bank or credit union?
We can service business start-ups, things that banks generally aren’t attracted to.
For example, if you have a lot of experience but not of a lot of collateral, we have the flexibility to help you balance that out. We can also partner with banks to offer better terms with programs like the SBA 504 that can help a business purchase commercial property with as little as 10 percent down.
How do you get your money?
After 40 years we have been able to generate our own revolving loan fund, but we also work with funds from USDA, SBA, Headwaters Funds, Humboldt Area Foundation and a variety of other funders.
Each funder may have different requirements, but we have enough sources that we can meet the needs of a variety of business owners.
How does the changing cannabis economy affect you?
We are not seeing the business development we used to see. There are cannabis businesses developing, but we have restrictions about lending to them.
For the rest of California, legalization creates an opportunity to benefit from a new industry, but for us it’s a total change to our economic climate.
Our sales tax is down, but our other taxes are up from all the permits. The county is bringing in money, it’s just not necessarily going to businesses in the way that it used to, and those businesses are often our clients.
What is the role of Humboldt State University in economic development?
HSU plays an important role in our economy. First, it brings experts to the community as teachers who can also reach out and work with local organizations and businesses.
The Schatz Energy Research Center has worked with local businesses to help make Humboldt County a leader in resilience planning and innovation. HSU produces educated employees.
Several past students, in anticipation of not being able to find work, helped to develop many of the businesses we see as leaders in our economy today – like Kokotat or Holly Yashi.
And, the university is responsible for a bump in the local economy by physically bringing thousands of people to live here for 10 months of the year.
How do you think our area is currently positioned?
In the past, we relied solely on one industry – be it timber or cannabis. We have burst through those bubbles and I hope that is never our strategy again.
Cannabis and timber are all still present – but we have a nice mix that also includes niche manufacturing, aquaculture and art.
And, we’re here! We’re not in the middle of a Midwest cornfield. We’ve got the redwoods and the ocean – it’s attractive here.
I like what we’re doing with trail building – we’re playing to our strengths and if it takes a while before other people realize it, that’s OK.
There’s good stuff happening around here. People often fall into the habit of focusing on the negative, and you don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but I like it here.
What is something you’re thinking about?
Social-impact investing. It’s fun looking at best practices. That’s the neat thing with the Internet – you can see what people are doing and what might work here.
If you’re not willing to try something new, you’re going to be left behind.