The Gulf Coast Veterinary Emergency Hospital's mission is to provide outstanding after-hours care for people's pets. But the organization's role as caregiver extends beyond the dogs and cats it treats. With the support of a local business development partner, the vet is helping her employees and area residents achieve financial stability as well.
Jennifer Sutton, the veterinarian-owner of the Biloxi, Mississippi-based clinic, credits Hope Enterprise Corp. (HOPE) and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) initiative with putting her hospital on solid financial ground and a growth trajectory.
With 33 sites in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Goldman Sachs program has served more than 8,000 small-business owners such as Sutton. HOPE, based in Jackson, Mississippi, is a community development financial institution made up of a loan fund and a credit union. The organization, which is a NeighborWorks network member, has provided 66 loans that leveraged $15.2 million in 10KSB funds to small businesses—a number that continues to grow. HOPE is the Goldman Sachs lending partner for the 10KSB program in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, where eligible businesses are offered greater access to education, capital and business-support services.
Sutton's hospital has been in business for 15 years and treats more than 8,000 animals annually. The clinic handles the after-hours and daytime urgent-care needs of 55 veterinary clinics and 110 veterinarians in the area. But, Sutton says, access to capital had been a problem over the years.
"The [HOPE/Goldman Sachs] program gave me the opportunity to focus on my business, concentrating on the strengths of my business and its needs," she says. "My business now is continuing to grow more than 20 percent a year. I'm still very locked into that network."
She credits the lessons learned and the access to capital through the 10KSB program with helping her open a second facility in Biloxi.
"It's been great," Sutton says. "I would encourage any small business owner to get as much education as you can that's available through programs like the 10KSB. It's like a boot camp for business owners."
In addition to its role as lender, HOPE provided credit and budget counseling for Sutton's employees; she now has more than 30. HOPE also provides one-on-one counseling at branch locations to address specific individual needs.
The 10KSB program wasn't Sutton's first introduction to HOPE. Sutton connected with HOPE representatives during a meeting of the Open Doors Homeless Coalition, an agency that supports nonprofit Gulf Coast organizations.
"Many of my employees had financial problems. My biggest obstacle was that I was providing a lot of pay advances, which was difficult. But I wanted to help my employees," she says. "I learned that HOPE could provide them with credit counseling and affordable loan options."
One of Sutton's employees was approved for a loan to pay for her daughter's return to college.
The financial security of Sutton's business also has provided her with the opportunity to play a larger role in her community. Her partnership with another local organization is allowing her to employ disabled individuals whose opportunities had been limited.
"We pay them more than $10 an hour and give them a real sense of worth," she says. "My opportunity here is not just to be a business owner. It's to employ people from different walks of life. It's putting my stamp on the community."