Entrepreneurs need the vision to create a business.
They also need the money.
Optometrist Julia Milanak had the vision.
The Intermediary Relending Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a critical portion of the money Milanak needed to start her own practice near Canan Station in early 2011.
Milanak was one of several prior IRP recipients at a news conference Wednesday to announce a $400,000 IRP loan to the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. for eventual distribution to local recipients like Milanak.
Since 2001, ABCD has received a total of $4.1 million from IRP, and has passed on $4.5 million through the program to 40-plus loan recipients, according to officials.
The local loans have helped those businesses "leverage" more than $11 million in other funding to create or retain about 135 jobs, Dan Hoover, a member of ABCD's Board of Directors, said.
Milanak worked for 20 years as an employee with a local optometry practice.
"I had enough of that," she told a group of officials and fellow recipients after the news conference. "I wanted to do my own thing."
The Bedford County native also wanted to stay in the area.
She borrowed $100,000 in IRP money at 4.5 percent and took out three commercial loans to finance her $500,000 project, which consisted of buying and renovating a building on Sixth Avenue and buying equipment and furnishings.
She and her husband put up their $30,000 in savings, their home and the business building itself as collateral for the loans and a line of credit.
Was she nervous?
"Oh my, yes," she said. "I wouldn't be human [not to be]."
But the enterprise looks successful, so far.
It's been growing at an "amazing" rate, and she has seen 1,533 patients, she said.
Over the years, ABCD has loaned the money from the program mainly for property acquisition, machinery and equipment and working capital, Executive Vice President Patrick Miller said.
The corporation borrows the program money at 1 percent over 30 years and lends it at about 4.5 percent over 15 or fewer years, Miller said. The longer repayment period and lower interest for ABCD than for the recipients enables the corporation to create a revolving loan fund, he said.
That fund includes $1 from the corporation for every $4 from USDA, Miller said.
All the money in the fund is currently spoken for, Miller said.
"As rapidly as the money is coming in, it's going back out," he said.
The new money will be available for potential recipients in about 120 days, he said.
The corporation identifies potential recipients in the course of helping clients who need help in starting or expanding businesses, Miller said.
The money can go for projects only in municipalities with fewer than 25,000 residents, said Doug O'Brien, deputy undersecretary for USDA Rural Development, who participated in the news conference.
Thus the money can go for projects anywhere in Blair County except Altoona.
"The program complements a lot of other programs we manage," Miller said. "This is a perfect program for smaller projects located in rural communities."