Since 2001, the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund has been helping small and startup businesses in the Greater Lehigh Valley. The fund not only offers them loans when traditional banks won’t, but also provides them with the technical support they may need to succeed.
A subsidiary of Community Action of the Lehigh Valley, Rising Tide serves five counties out of its Bethlehem office — Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon Monroe and Upper Bucks counties.
Officially, it is a U.S. Treasury certified Community Development Financial Institution.
Christopher Hucock, executive director of Business Development for Rising Tide, has been with the lender since 2005 and has helped businesses from barber shops to day care centers get the funding and help they need to get started or expand.
He said the typical client is a small business which isn’t able to get a traditional loan from a bank or credit union.
Rising Tide makes loans generally in the range of $10,000 to $150,000, which are generally smaller than most traditional lenders take on.
It could also be because the business is in a sector that banks don’t like to lend in, like restaurants, which have a high failure rate.
On Bethlehem’s South Side alone, Rising Tide has made loans to a number of bars, restaurants and microbreweries. Among them – Bonn Brewing, South Side 313, The Flying V and Molly’s Irish Grille & Sports Bar.
Chaz Patrick, owner of Molly’s, said the Rising Tide has helped him build his business a number of times.
“I was pretty aggressive going to them to get a loan,” he said.
It helped fund the bar’s expansion into a vacant space next door, which allowed him to open a six-pack shop.
A loan also helped Molly’s stay afloat through the COVID-19 shutdown, until Patrick was able to secure PPP funding.
And while Patrick said all of the loans he’s taken out from the fund have been paid back in full, he is considering going back to Rising Tide for more funding for a new business venture he’s considering.
But it’s not just money, Hudock said. He said Rising Tide also offers technical support, especially for businesses that are just getting started and might not know how to do such things as register with the state.
Staffers have also helped businesses set up a web presence and develop a business and marketing plan.
“The goal is to get them to the point where they can do things on their own,” Hudock said.
He said some people come to Rising Tide for help, because they lack the credit to get a traditional loan.
He said banks generally want to see two to three years of profitability before they make a loan, which is something a startup can’t offer.
They may also have a lack of collateral or bad credit.
One of his favorite success stories was the help Rising Tide gave to Rick Nauman of Catasauqua to start AFab Hauling.
Nauman was working in heavy highway construction when he had heat stroke on the job.
While he could no longer do that sort of heavy labor, he was unable to get workman’s comp, disability or unemployment after the incident.
He went in debt, nearly losing his home as he tried to look for work that he could still do.
A friend told him about opportunities hauling sludge from a canal project in the Philadelphia area.
If he could get his hands on a dump truck, there was money to be made.
With his debt, he couldn’t find anyone to loan him the money he needed to buy a truck – until he got in touch with Rising Tide.
With Rising Tide’s help, Nauman not only bought the truck, but expanded his business to include services such as lawn maintenance, snow removal and waste hauling.
“I always try to hustle, but there were quite a few times that if it wasn’t for Chris and the Rising Tide, I would probably be homeless, or even worse,” he said.
Both business owners said the services Rising Tide offers were key to their success.
“I recommend them to anyone who is trying to start out,” Nauman said.
But Hudock is quick to point out that while Rising Tide is there to help, it is still a serious lender. They also demand collateral and loan payback like any other lending institution.
“It’s only been a handful of times, thankfully, but we have had to go after clients for collateral because of non-payment,” Hudock said. “If a business doesn’t pay, the owners are personally responsible.”
Like any other lender, Rising Tide needs to have its loans repaid in order to keep lending to other businesses and, if loans aren’t repaid, it can’t pay back its own loans.
With an average loan in 2023 being around $40,000, Hudock said Rising Tide is the right size lender for many small businesses in the region and continues to serve the businesses that need it.