The nonprofit LIFT Orlando has teamed up with a major bank and the largest micro-lender in Florida to offer $400,000 in grants to spur growth in the West Lake community near the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

The program is designed to accelerate growth and increase capital for businesses already located in the 32805-zip code and encourage entrepreneurs to start new businesses in the Parramore area.

Small business owners who represented restaurants, clothing manufacturers and a cooking school sat around a table to discuss the program with bankers, local politicians and Parramore leaders Tuesday at Oley’s Kitchen and Smokehouse Restaurant.

“We’re here to start a conversation about prosperity and economic growth but it takes partnerships within the community,” said Eddy Moratin, executive director of LIFT Orlando, which links business leaders with residents to break the cycle of poverty through neighborhood revitalization. “We’ve pursued goals of improving housing, education and wellness and now we’re anxious to move to economic growth.”

LIFT Orlando is renovating two foreclosed apartment complexes to provide more affordable housing at a community called The Villages at West Lake, near the Citrus Bowl.

JPMorgan Chase provided the $400,000 grants and is partnering with Accion, a micro-lender that will dole out small business loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to businesses than normally would not qualify for traditional bank loans because of low credit scores, bankruptcy or low capital.

The only requirements for the loans is that a business operates in the 32805 zip and has been in business for at least six months.

Paula Cox, owner of P&D Soul Food Kitchen in the Village Square Mall, said she plans to apply for a loan that will help her buy new equipment and hire more staffers. The kitchen, which opened nine years ago by the husband and wife team with their savings of $1,500, now has eight employees.

“This would help us tremendously,” said Cox, whose husband told the politicians that they started the business as “a poor man’s hustler,” buying new equipment only after making a profit.

Hebni Nutrition Consultants Executive Director Roniece Weaver said she would use the loan to grow and expand her business, which teaches local residents how to shop, cook and eat healthy foods.

“Despite being the most entrepreneurial state in the country,” too few Florida businesses have access to flexible financing and support services that are so critical to their growth,” said former U.S. senator Mel Martinez, who is the southeast chairman of JPMorgan Chase. “By partnering with organizations like LIFT Orlando and Accion, we can help local businesses overcome obstacles and create more economic opportunity for our community.”

Moratin emphasized the program isn’t just about small business loans but also will include mentorship and partnerships from local government and corporate leaders.

Eddy Moratin, Mel Martinez and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

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