By Kristina Brownlee, RCAC rural development specialist
It took Bernard Garcia 14 years to see his dream take shape. It was not for lack of trying, but due to invisible barriers that keep him and other Indigenous entrepreneurs who do business on Tribal lands from expanding. In Bernard’s case it was the inability to secure typical financing because he could not borrow against his land.
Home for Bernard is Kewa Pueblo, formerly Santo Domingo Pueblo, one of the numerous pueblos that dot the New Mexico landscape. He was trained as an auto mechanic in Phoenix more than two decades ago. He always knew that he wanted to own his own shop in his own community. He pursued the standard routes for the necessary startup financing, but the blurry Tribal land ownership lines meant he was severely limited in what he could use as collateral. He simply could not access the capital he needed.
Then Bernard crossed paths with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Through W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other funders’ generous support, RCAC was able to offer a Building Rural Economies workshop series specifically tailored to Tribal entrepreneurs. Native American Business Development: A Journey training was offered in 2019 in three New Mexico communities: Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Isleta and Cochiti Pueblo. Bernard was able to participate in the workshop series held in Cochiti. The training helped Bernard and his wife, Alvina, solidify their business plan and start planning how to grow their workspace into an actual automotive shop. They had the physical structure, but it needed more.
Around this time, RCAC’s leadership built a relationship with a regional funder to address issues with Tribal entrepreneurs and access to capital. In 2020, RCAC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with First Southwest Community Fund for its Native Entrepreneur Micro-Loan Program. This innovative program seeks to support native entrepreneurs in New Mexico and Colorado with micro-loans between $5,000 – $10,000 to start or expand their businesses and create or retain jobs.
Bernard was using a generator to run his tools and equipment, which was not ideal. Working with BRE technical assistance providers and First Southwest Community Fund staff, Bernard applied for and received $10,000 loan to install electricity in his shop.
A few months later, to go along with the 2020 theme, his shop floor severely cracked, rendering his automotive lift impossible to operate. He had only recently reopened his business after being quarantined during COVID-19, and this dangerous structural situation essentially shut down his business once again.
RCAC and Bernard went back to the supportive leadership at First Southwest Community Fund to see if he could increase his loan to get the floor repaired immediately. Thankfully First Southwest Community Fund approved the loan increase and Bernard was able to restore his floor.
Bernard also applied for and was approved for both rounds of Paycheck Protection Program funding through RCAC’s Loan Fund and qualified for forgiveness–RCAC is an SBA lender.
Improvements continued. This summer, he applied for and was awarded $25,000 from RCAC’s new Re-emerging Loan Fund program (RELieF). This program assists small business clients as they re-emerge in a post COVID-19 world. Through this new and exciting program, Bernard has access to a very low simple interest rate of 3 percent as well as BRE’s small business coaching superstars to support his financial sustainability. Collateral is not required and there are no personal credit reviews that could be potential obstacles for borrowers. The RELieF program is meant to give businesses a boost and if they are not profitable, the loan could become a grant. Bernard received the full $25,000 to add a new component to his shop that is desperately needed in his community as it reopens—tire services. And on top of the recent electrical improvements, he is adding a septic system and bathroom to improve the shop environment for his customers, his employees, and himself.
Bernard is not stopping with these improvements. He has major plans for his business that include purchasing a tow truck and expanding the building. We’ll just have to see what is next for this unshakeable entrepreneur who has become a familiar name to many RCAC staff. Bernard is dedicated to his vision, his future, and his business and RCAC is here to help.