Chestnut Hill, Tenn. –USDA Business Programs Administrator Lillian Salerno spent two days visiting small businesses in East Tennessee, including a stop to meet with Jefferson County’s John Burleson, owner of English Mountain Spring Water in Chestnut Hill (Cocke, Co.).
In 2006, English Mountain Spring Water in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains had built a reputation for having one of the best natural springs in the world. That notoriety and repute for reliably delivering a high quality, competitively priced custom product landed the fledgling company the opportunity of a lifetime, producing for a national restaurant/retail chain. But, it would take money for equipment to scale up production to dependably meet the big jump in demand that comes with large corporate contracts.
Like many in his situation, Burleson had a good relationship with the local bank that had seen him through start up, but the lender did not have the capacity to help him take the next step. In frustration he spent a night searching for affordable alternatives online. He found USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program that works with private lenders to make more capital available for business loans in rural areas. Citizens National Bank in Sevierville was interested in the program and English Mountain became their first partnership with USDA.
Salerno met with Burleson and owners of three other East Tennessee family businesses that are creating good jobs in Appalachia including King Business Forms in Tazewell, Wampler’s Farm Sausage in Lenoir City and Volunteer Fastener in Vonore. All of them tell about reaching a crossroads only to discover how scarce business capital can be in rural areas. In each case they said local USDA staff made a big difference, connecting them and their lenders with the financial resources needed for expansion, renovation, acquisition and working capital.
Because USDA was there to help, Burleson’s English Mountain now bottles water for many international, national and specialty brands from Eternal, Bling H2O, and Aqua Deco to Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. The company’s own name brand is also popular with local and national retailers. “We’re a small business in a small community successfully competing against a lot of corporate giants,” said Burleson. “Business has grown a lot with the help of USDA, and here in Chestnut Hill it still feels like I’m working and building a future with family.”
Salerno noted, “Just since 2009 in Tennessee, with this one program USDA has assisted 54 rural businesses employing over 2,500 people by helping private lenders make available more than $200 million in needed capital.”
“Good jobs are being created all over the nation and thousands of entrepreneurs have the financial resources they need to grow their passion into a successful, productive business,” said Salerno. “Because user fees cover the lion’s share of the cost of this program, and the jobs impacted keep and bring money into rural communities, this program is a tremendous value for the investment.”
“Across America, over the last four years we’ve helped over 3,200 businesses keep more than 125,000 people working because USDA loan guarantee programs are there to support the private sector when they need it,” concluded Salerno.
Citizens National Bank has since worked with USDA on loans for rural businesses worth more than $50 million, helping nine businesses that employee over 250 people in the region. According to USDA’s Greeneville Area Office Director Joe Woody, “It’s worth noting too how success in one business impacts others. Cracker Barrel used this same program about 30 years ago to help make the jump from small regional company to national brand with stores in 42 states.”
“This program makes it possible for a lot of businesses to grow good jobs,” he concluded.