City loans help small businesses overcome big obstacles

For an aspiring entrepreneur, opening a small business can turn into a big challenge.

The humming frozen yogurt machines at Jade Café didn’t come cheap, but a $40,000 small business development loan from the city of La Crosse helped make opening the café, yogurt and all, a reality.

“We were ‘X’ number of dollars short of getting this place open and functioning. And that amount of dollars is what I got from the city to get us open. Without that, we would have had to scale back a significant amount of what we had planned on doing to open up,” said Ryan Niemeier, Jade Café’s owner.

La Crosse Director of City Planning Larry Kirch said that’s exactly how the SBDL is supposed to work.

“We try to be what we call a ‘lender of last resort.’ So it’s not that these folks aren’t great entrepreneurs, or [don’t] have a great idea. They do have credit-worthiness. But maybe it’s because of the project they’re trying to do, there is a little gap. And we try to fill that gap,” said Kirch.


Businesses with fewer than 100 employees can apply for the federally funded loans, which are worth up to $200,000.

For every $35,000 the city loans out, the business has to create one full-time job for a person with low-to-moderate income.

About 450 La Crosse jobs have been created in this way since the SBDL program started up 30 years ago.

4 Sisters Wine Bar & Tapas Restaurant got a $35,000 SBDL.

One of the four sisters, Traci Weber, said it was crucial to getting their doors open.

“I always like to say, ‘We were ignorance on fire.’ And we just had this idea and we were going to go with it and make it happen,” said Weber. “If you see it and you want to build it, go out there and get that help that you need, and you can make it happen too.”

The city offers two other loans as part of its Business Assistance Programs.

Through the Architectural & Engineering Analysis Program, the city pays 80 percent of the cost to hire an architect to check out a building’s structural and mechanical conditions.

On Wednesday, News 8 will take a closer look at city loans to renovate upper floors of downtown buildings.

For more information on these loan programs, you can go to the City Planning Department’s website.