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Lending program helps local minority-owned small businesses succeed

Why a local bank is putting a priority on these businesses.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Small, locally-owned businesses are often the lifeline of our community, offering more personalized goods and services. 

But being able to open and even sustain these businesses can be a challenge, especially if you're a minority.  

Just last year, the number of loans to African American businesses dropped 35 percent.  

One local bank is doing its part to change that.

"So we're a Guest Inn, we have 9 bedrooms. They all have their own entrances and most of them have their own porches." Juan Jose Miniello just beams with pride when he shows you around the Meranova Guest Inn in downtown Dunedin. 

But 2020 was a tough year for him, so he needed to refinance. 

"I made a lot of changes to survive.  And thank God, actually, this is going to be our best year even better than before COVID."

After getting turned down by 7 large banks, Miniello found out about Minority-Owned Business Lending Program at St. Petersburg's First Home Bank. 

The program was set up last year with an ambitious goal to help businesses like Miniello's. 

Valerie Fulbright is Vice President and Community Engagement Officer for First Home Bank. "So we decided to move forward with the $50 million goal to lend to women and minorities really in the local footprint."

In less than a year, the bank has passed that goal and is hoping to expand the program to help businesses like the Meranova Inn continue to grow. 

"It improves overall our community at large because this was during the pandemic too. So that has had a huge impact in helping businesses that didn't know what they were going to do or how they were going to do it."

Miniello says he is ready to expand. "We are going to be doing a lot more events, weddings. We get a lot of calls from brides that want to have small weddings here."

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