Loans brought community jobs, hope

Nike partnership, neighborhood grant program highlights of Development Credit Fund's legacy

August 02, 2004|By Todd Beamon | Todd Beamon, Staff

Development Credit Fund Inc. closed in June after 21 years of providing loans and other assistance to small businesses in the Baltimore region.

Committee in 1983, the DCF was financed with $7.5 million from six area banks. The Maryland General Assembly created a loan guarantee fund for the same amount through the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority. The DCF was the state's first joint public-private financing entity.

Ackneil M. Muldrow II was named the fund's president and chief executive. He still was running the fund out of its Charles Village offices when it closed on June 30.

Throughout its history, the DCF has provided nearly $40 million in loans, generally spanning five to 10 years for working capital, equipment and machinery. It also managed nearly $5 million in federal funds through various community development programs.

One of the DCF's most successful efforts was the Diversity Retail Entrepreneurial Loan Fund, a $1 million partnership with Nike Inc. and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to aid minority entrepreneurs in opening athletic apparel stores in low-income areas. At its peak, as many as six stores operated in such local communities as East Baltimore, Cherry Hill and Highlandtown.

Muldrow, a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, worked at Commercial Credit Corp. in Baltimore and the Montgomery Ward & Co. before joining the DCF.

In an interview, Muldrow discussed the Nike program and other DCF efforts.

One of the Development Credit Fund's most successful programs was the venture with Nike and the state.

That was really was a coup for us. Really a coup. I don't think anybody else has done it. We were really pleased that we got the attention of a national organization.

Nike had been under some criticism for the lack of stores owned by African-Americans?

With Nike, as with many other companies, it's a distribution process. You don't want your shoes competing with your shoes. Nike could not put its money up to compete against other Nike outlets. That's how they controlled the market. When Nike decided to get into the program with us, we chose to support Nike-type operations.


Because in the areas where the stores were, there were none [owned by African-Americans] nearby. There was no retail outlet for the Nike products in black communities.

Kenneth N. Oliver, DCF senior vice president] and I were talking one day, and I said: "Look at all those people buying those Nike products. There's not an African-American or minority on the other side. They need to be selling, not buying."

What attracted the DCF to the program?

We were in the inner city. The customer base was in difficult areas, like Cherry Hill, East Baltimore.

What was it like approaching the company?

When we went out there [Beaverton, Ore.], we had our PowerPoint presentation ready, only to find out that they had done such an investigation on us; they knew all about us before we even got out there. They said, "Let's go right to the presentation." We were shocked.

We had [Joseph Haskins Jr., president and CEO of Harbor Bank of Maryland] because Nike wanted to put some money into a black-owned bank. We brought a vice president to Baltimore for a tour of the facilities that we were working with.

What they told us was that they had investigated our organization. They felt we were structured well, and we had the right support staff and the right philosophy. They got a lot out of it.

Did you feel as if you were selling out to Nike?

We didn't look at it from the protest side. We were concerned about the retail end.

Did the DCF stores suffer because of the later accusations of sweatshop conditions in Nike's factories overseas?

Oh no. I'm dealing on the retail end; That's the manufacturing. On the retail end, the only thing they wanted to know was can I get that shoe

Can you get it and can you move it ?

There you go! I'm not worried about all that other stuff. We were able work with them on that.

Several of the stores eventually closed. Why?

When the economy went down [in the early 1990s], a lot of customers had gone away. It was really difficult for them to make it.

We worked with them as long as we could. Some of the people decided to just give up, because they didn't have the deep pockets or the resources. We still have two stores in Prince George's County. They have funding from other sources. They paid us off.

The young people who had the opportunity to do this, they're the better off. I think the community is the better off, in that they had that kind of exposure, they had that kind of opportunity and convenience from having a Nike outlet in the community.

Were the stores affected by Michael Jordan's retirements back then?

When Michael first retired [in 1994], man, that hit hard. That really hit hard. He was the mainstay in the industry. The industry itself had a downturn -- and that affected our people, too.

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