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Bringing the Low-Tech Up to Date

Small business: Banking centers that double as computer labs help minority, low-income firms modernize.

November 19, 1996|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For minority and low-income entrepreneurs who are using shoe boxes instead of software to keep track of business paperwork, help has arrived.

Two community banking centers have expanded to new quarters: Operation Hope Banking Center near Baldwin Hills and the Community Financial Resource Center in South-Central Los Angeles.

Both are equipped with a bank of computers to train small-business owners, organize their records, print computer-generated billings and access the Internet for marketing and other information.

Banking centers that double as computer training labs are catching on. The U.S. Small Business Administration plans to open 15 One-Stop Capital Shops that provide advice, training, financial counseling, loans and computer access. Five exist now, in Boston; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Kansas City, Mo.; and Somerset, Ky.; and one is scheduled to open in Los Angeles within 90 days.

"There is a tremendous need to bring banking services and automated electronic services into the inner cities in under-served and unserved communities," said Alberto Alvarado, SBA district director.

That need is not likely to be filled by banks caught up in the wave of mergers and branch closures, said John Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation Hope.

Only 20% of low-income households have computers, compared with 80% of affluent households, according to a Times New Technology Poll conducted in August.

Lance Triggs, who runs the Operation Hope Banking Center, said many of the small-business owners who walk through his doors are still using invoice books from stationery stores and writing receipts and bills by hand.

"For a mom-and-pop to grow and be professional, they have to change the way they do business," Triggs said.

To help that change along, both centers provide free computer training programs. Operation Hope offers memberships at $25 a year to allow owners of small firms to use the computers regularly to run their business.

Small firms can also receive business counseling and apply for loans of $50,000 to $250,000. The center brings bankers to the community on a rotating basis, screening businesses and consumers for loan eligibility.

The CFRC has functioned for the last three years in much the same way, providing loans of up to $25,000 as well as computer training. For Mel Carter, a CFRC client who wants to expand his auto-detailing service, New Life Enterprises, computer training is preparation for the future.

"I was hoping I would have more business at this time," Carter said. "But at this point, I'm getting prepared for when I do have a big business."

For more information, contact Operation Hope Banking Center, 3721 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 290-2410 or Community Financial Resource Center, 4060 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 233-1900.

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