September 16 - 23, 1998

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Parkville's $3 Million Loan Program Becomes Reality

by Andy Hart

Thom Huynh, Jesus Samboy Rodriguez and Ignacious Okonkwo may come from different corners of the globe but on Monday, September 14, all three had one thing in common: they are the first recipients of an innovative loan program for businesses in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood.

Huynh, owner of the NGOC PHAT Jewelry Store on Park Street and a native of Vietnam, Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic and owner of Video Cinema on New Park Avenue, and Okonkwo, a native Nigerian and owner of Earth Design Associates will be receiving a total of $220,000 through the Parkville Business Development Loan Program.

The program is a collaboration between People's Bank, the City of Hartford and the Parkville Business Association (PBA). The program is designed to increase economic expansion, employment opportunities and neighborhood stability in Parkville.

People's is making available $3 million in low-interest loans, the City is putting up $250,000 for guarantees and credit enhancements and the PBA is providing technical assistance to business owners in the loan application process. The minimum loan is $35,000 and the maximum is $250,000, said Mohamoud Ahmet, PBA Merchant Coordinator.

At a ceremony on Monday at Huynh's jewelry store marking the official opening of the loan program, Mayor Mike Peters said it could become a model for the rest of the city. "We have to make sure this works properly so that we can take it on the road to North Hartford and to South Hartford," he said.

Huynh said he will be using his loan to double the size of his store. His son, Anh, said the expansion is necessary due to increased business since the store opened about five years ago. NGOC PHAT caters almost exclusively to Asian-Americans and draws customers from as far away as New York and Boston. "Look at this place, it's just too small. On Saturdays sometimes we have over 20 people in here. It's packed, you can hardly move," Anh said. In addition to its retail operations, NGOC PHAT also manufactures about half of the jewelry it sells on the premises.

Rodriguez said he will be using the loan to hire two new employees, increase his inventory and modernize his store on New Park Avenue.
The two new employees are good news for Rodriguez, who said he works an average of 60 hours per week and has not had a vacation since opening his store in 1987. He added that the loan program marks a "new beginning" for Parkville, which he described as "the most vibrant neighborhood in Hartford, there's so much diversity here."

Okonkwo said his $80,000 loan will help him to hire an assistant and buy more equipment in order to get more business for his civil and environmental engineering firm. While thanking People's Bank and the City for instituting the loan program, Okonkwo also said he could use more assistance to get new contracts. Turning to Mayor Peters, he said, "The City has been helping us but we need some more help."

Ahmed also said more needs to be done to complete the revitalization of the Parkville business community, such as lowering property taxes but he added that the loan program is a big step in the right direction.
"This shows that private-public partnerships work," he said.

Ahmet said he was also proud of the diversity of the first three loan recipients, which he says is characteristic of the neighborhood. "That's why we call it Parkville U.S.A., everything in the U.S. is right here in Parkville."

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