CDE: Community First Fund
Developer: SACA Development Corporation
Owner: The Spanish American Civic Association
Location: Lancaster, Pa.
The winner of the 2014 Small Business QLICI of the Year Award is Community First Fund for providing new markets tax credit (NMTC) financing to help build Tec Centro in Lancaster City, Pa. Tec Centro is a training center with a mission to provide low-income bilingual residents with language development training, adult basic education, bilingual skills training and job readiness and job placement services.
In 2013, SACA Development Corporation decided to expand Tec Centro's vocational training program by developing the vacant building adjacent to its headquarters into a bilingual technology and job training center. The renovated 16,600-square-foot facility contains classrooms, a construction training center, a commercial kitchen, a dental lab, a certified nursing assistant training center and a computer lab. Daniel Betancourt, president of the Community First Fund, said that SACA expects to provide services to at least 1,500 people annually.
Development supporters say Tec Centro's services will help bring more than 1,000 of the area's bilingual residents into the regional workforce annually. Betancourt said that 60 percent of Hispanics live below the poverty line in southeast Lancaster City, where most of Tec Centro's participants reside. Many area residents are unable to find meaningful employment because of language barriers and a lack of job skills. Tec Centro offers bilingual skills training and support services for careers in healthcare, business and hospitality, food service, construction, manufacturing and office administration. Tec Centro also provides developmental education, prepares residents to obtain their general equivalency degree (GED) and helps them build a variety of general workplace and job-specific skills. SACA works with community partners, including Harrisburg Area Community College and local banks, to provide industry-specific training. Betancourt says that each year approximately 85 percent of the participants in the SACA program obtain full-time employment.
Betancourt says it was difficult for SACA to obtain the necessary funding to cover the $4.3 million in renovation costs for several reasons. First, Tec Centro wasn't projected to generate enough revenue to service debt at conventional market rates. Second, the training center's projected operating income came primarily from public sector grants, and the continued availability of those grants was uncertain. SACA worked to secure approximately $2.95 million of the total project financing, and the financing gap was filled with equity raised by the new market tax credits (NMTCs) from Community First Fund.