Accion Texas helping valley businesses stay afloat

The restaurant Los Mecates on Padre Island Highway in Brownsville, has been serving-up Mexican dishes for the past four years.Owner Steven Harrison said he was a faithful Food Channel viewer and his wife had previous experience in the restaurant business.He said opening a restaurant of their own, seemed like the perfect thing to do, until they asked for a bank loan."(They) helped me in the beginning as much as they could, but then the recession hit which nobody knew it was coming, and I needed more money," Harrison said.Harrison said the bank, unable to lend him the money he needed, referred the entrepreneur to Accion Texas, a nonprofit group that loans small businesses anywhere from $500 to $250,000."They helped me fill-out the paperwork, and pretty soon, Harrison said, they had money for me to come get to keep me in business."Accion Texas President and CEO Janie Barrera said Los Mecates is just one of thousands the organization has helped. On Wednesday, the group presented a loan to a Harlingen-based construction company."The average credit score of one of our customers is 575, Barrera said.The cut-off at a bank is 680, so what we're able to do is be a little bit more flexible because we are a non-for-profit. Banks are regulated - they would love to do some of these loans - but they can't."Many banks work with Accion Texas and refer small business owners to the organization, which Barrera said is doing more than just lending money."We see this as a hand up not a hand-out, Barrera said.There's a saying, ~you give somebody a fish they eat for a day, you teach somebody how to fish you feed them a lifetime."Well, what we do at Accion, is help people buy the pond in which they fish."