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Casino funding goes to small-business loans

What do a Baltimore County granola firm, an HVAC contractor and a cafe have in common?

A granola company, a cafe and a contracting firm owned by a disabled veteran are the first three recipients of $700,000 in loans from a new Baltimore County program for small minority- and women-owned businesses.

"This relationship has yielded more than I thought it would," said Michele Tsucalas, the owner and founder of Timonium-based Michele's Granola LLC, who received a $250,000 loan to help with a $600,000 relocation and expansion.

Tsucalas said she was just looking for advice when she approached the county about her plans. The loan will help her business to move into a bigger, 10,500-square-foot space, doubling production and distribution, and bringing on 24 new full-time employees in three years.

The firm, founded in 2006, operates in 5,500-square-feet in two locations with 12 full-time employees and 16 part-timers. They prepare more than 8,000 pounds of granola products a week.

Tsucalas said she also approached commercial lenders, but the county's interest rate was better. "It was the most competitive and the most flexible," Tsucalas said. "I felt like it's a good, mutually beneficial partnership.

Baltimore County in June became one of four new jurisdictions selected by the state to administer the program, which is funded by 1.5 percent of the proceeds from slot machines at Maryland casinos. The Baltimore Development Corp. received $1 million.

At the time, about $7.8 million in loans had been disbursed through the program, according to the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the Boost Loan Fund awards announced Thursday, which also include $250,000 loan to the Oak Creek Cafe in Arbutus and $200,000 to Aegis Mechanical Contracting, make him confident that the county will be able to disburse at least 80 percent of its $1.5 million allocation by the end of the fiscal year. Loans range from $50,000 to $250,000.

"We fully expect that requirement will be met," he said, adding that the county intends to apply to administer the funds again next year. "We even think we'll have a waiting list of qualified companies."


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