The squeals of little voices still echo throughout the halls from the rooms of this former elementary school in Norfolk, thanks to help from an SBA guaranteed loan.
Northern Hills Childcare, which opened in September 2012, offers busy parents an inviting place for their children to run, play and learn.
“The space is great,” owner Liz Sudbeck said. “We love having enough room for letting the kids run and play.”
For the kids, there are age- and developmentally-appropriate playgrounds, lively-colored classrooms with large windows and plenty of activity areas, a gymnasium, and a calendar packed with field trips and preschool programs. For parents, there’s the assurance that the electronic security and staff members trained in first aid and CPR will keep their kids safe, with parking just steps from the front door.
With two big 15-passenger vans, Northern Hills Childcare transports kids to about eight different schools in the area, offering before-school and after-school programs. “We help them with their homework, and also have a library,” she added.
Liz Sudbeck her and daughter, Harper, inside one of the classrooms at Northern Hills Childcare
“I’ve always enjoyed being around kids, it’s what I went to school for,” said Sudbeck, who holds a degree from Wayne State in early childhood education, and worked at a day care center in town before deciding to start her own business.
Due to consolidation, the elementary school closed for good as the year ended in the spring of 2011. The city immediately started looking for a buyer for the building, and its 12 classrooms, gym, lunchroom, library and offices. At the same time, Sudbeck made the decision with her husband to go into the day care business on their own.
Turning to the SBA to get the deal done
Sudbeck made an appointment with Russ Wilcox, senior vice president at Midwest Bank, seeking financing to purchase the former elementary school on North 12th St. But Wilcox recommended the couple first sit down with Loren Kucera at the Nebraska Business Development Center to put together a solid business plan with financial projections.
“The thing we worked on the most with him was figuring out how many kids it was going to take to make things work,” Sudbeck said, “which was really difficult because we didn't know how many ages those kids would be, and how long they would be here each day.”
Sudbeck figured they could take as many as 50 children to start, and armed with her business plan, she appeared before the Norfolk Planning Commission to get a permit to turn the closed school into her new business. The commission liked her idea of a day care, and pushed through a re-zoning plan to turn the old school into a new business.
“There are a couple of small day care centers in town through local churches, and we have a lot of in-home private care,” Wilcox said. “But nothing like this, not a for-profit center of this size.”
With interim financing from Midwest Bank in place, work began to turn classrooms into playrooms, and to improve the kitchen. Then the place needed to be filled with chairs, changing tables, cribs and toys. Most of the stuff came surplus from area schools, saving the new business a lot of money. A new play area on the grounds is for tykes while an existing playground across the street will be moved to the grounds in the spring for older kids.
Northern Hills Childcare was approved Dec. 21, 2012 for an SBA 7(a) guaranteed loan to pay off the interim loan, and to offer the business permanent working capital for expenses.
To help market the new business, Northern Hills Childcare sponsored radio and newspaper ads, but an open house both before and after their official grand opening drew likes on their Facebook page. They’re also partnering with nearby Norfolk Iron and Metal to provide day care for the children of their employees, and are reaching out to other area businesses for similar arrangements.
“I’ve been impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish at this point,” Wilcox said. So are nearby homeowners.
Getting plenty of support with the new business
“I think we've had a lot of support from people around here,” she said. “All of the neighbors have come by and expressed how glad they are to have a day care in this part of town.”
Even better: the new business already has created almost two dozen jobs in this city of 24,000.
Opening her own small business was “very scary,” Sudbeck admitted, but she added she was fortunate to get support from the community and her family. In fact, when he’s not busy working with his father’s underground boring business, Sudbeck’s husband also helps run the center.
“I've had people come through to see the day care that have talked about how they always wanted to do it themselves but haven't had the opportunity or take the risk,” she said.
Wilcox added. “You look at these kids who come in here; these kids are running around in a full sized gym in the middle of winter, instead of in front of a TV. You add in the playground equipment, it’s a very popular place for the kids because it’s so unique. There’s a tremendous wow factor here.”
Jason Fischer couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
He got a message from an associate that a robber had hit his business. Gone was everything the thief could carry, all his expensive camera equipment, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth that he needed for Surreal Media Lab, his design and media business. Years of work, of pouring money from a job here and a job there back into his one-man media company trying to make a name in the community, out in a flash.
And the gut punch? His insurance policy would not be covering the loss due to a technicality. “How am I going to fix this?” he asked himself.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story.
Today, Fischer is one of Omaha's most sought-after director/producers and visual designers, building a small business around crafting his artistic vision for nearly a decade. Over the years, he moved from airbrush illustration and acrylic painting, incorporating graphic art into his work, and began to dabble in digital photography. Fischer taught himself dozens of graphic arts software programs, eventually became a master photographer, and conquered the cutting edge components of web design. Finding an early niche in compact disc covers and model pictorials over the years, Fischer built his reputation of being the go-to guy for professionally designed graphic arts and web design projects.
Jason Fischer, owner of Omaha-based Surreal Media Lab
He grew a unique way of meeting customer needs. “I have been called a big picture thinker seeing the full potential of a client. I ‘reverse-engineer’, from top to bottom the person and their business, giving them something that’s tailored to them and their mission.”
But after the robbery, Jason said, a “hole opened up under me.”
He soon met with Centris Federal Credit Union, the SBA’s 2011 National Rural/Small Business Lender of the Year, where he was approved Nov. 11, 2010, for an SBA Express loan under provisions of the Jobs Act.
The proceeds went for new equipment, allowing him to follow the market shift away from print and stills work to web design and high-quality video production. He also began to offer business development for his clients, include branding, long-term planning and budgeting.
“I’m doing okay,” Fischer said. Indeed, these days he has a stable of clients, mostly non-profits and small businesses, that offer steady work, and he has a network of talent to do larger projects.
Fischer also decided to move from his Ames Avenue location to a studio on 26th and Harney Street, near Omaha’s trendy Midtown Crossing, where he shares the location and cross-collaborates with a handful of other directors and production firms on new ideas and approaches in design.
One of Fischer’s signature jobs was the design for the marketing campaign for the 2011 Omaha Film Festival. But perhaps his most ambitious project is “InFuse Live,” an online series featuring talent from the across the Midwest. The idea, pulled from open mic events at area clubs, pairs various local artists from different trendsetting genres, raw creation of new and refreshing works live on stage, giving each a platform to launch a career in the entertainment world.
“In a sense it does feel like it’s a new business,” Fischer said. “It feels like I’ve worked in other places, and this direction is so new it feels like I’ve transformed the business.
“But it’s the same work ethic, the same design experience,” he said. “It’s a new day.”
It’s a two-story sandstone brick and glass stylish hotspot off the busy 168th and West Center location in a burgeoning Omaha neighborhood of cutting-edge restaurants and popular boutiques. There’s even a new apartment development going up across the street. During the summer the place is buzzing with parties outside; in the winter there’s an auburn glow inside. The heady scent of yeasty fresh beer brewed fresh in-house fills the huge dining room surrounded by brick and inviting wooden touches.
Brian Magee inside Upstream Brewing Company's West O location.
But without the help of the SBA’s 504 loan program, it might not be a stretch that Upstream Brewing Company’s west Omaha location would have vanished from the scene.
Bringing the Upstream experience to Omaha
Years ago, Brian Magee served as the food and beverage director at a distinguished landmark hotel in Lincoln, serving fine fare to the capitol city’s decision-makers and visiting aristocracy. He’d dreamed of someday opening his own restaurant, and in the late 1980s, made repeated trips with his brother to Denver to visit the first brewpub established in Colorado.
“Loved it,” Magee said. “They had fresh-brewed beer made on site paired with an interesting pub-style menu.”
So Magee bit, working to start a brewpub in partnership with the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Colorado as it attempted to branch out nationally; his business partner was John Hickenlooper, one of the founders of the Wynkoop and later became mayor of Denver and present governor of the state.
Magee and Hickenlooper bought a re-purposed old downtown fire station at 11th and Jackson Streets, which the previous owners had been using as a dinner theater.
In 1996, Magee, as president of the company, reopened the doors of the completed remodeled firehouse and introduced Upstream Brewing Company to Omaha’s Old Market district.
"I thought we could do something that would be different and unique and have maybe a little more upscale feel," Magee said.
Over the years, Upstream has been a staple of the city’s premier arts and entertainment district, basing the business success on its great food, quality craft beers and service, and giving a hat tip to the location’s origin with its Firehouse Red Lager brand. You can look for other tributes to old Omaha landmarks up and down the menu of Upstream’s stouts and ales.
Magee, continuing the nod to local history, took the business moniker from the translation of the Omaha Indian tribe’s word from which the city is named, sometimes as “the upstream people” or “above all others on a stream.” It fits, after all, Magee added, because it does take water to make beer and it also has an uplifting feeling.
Six years later, Magee and his operating partners bought out Wynkoop’s interest in the Old Market location and began scouting for a second location in the fast-growing western edge of the city.
Expanding operations to West O
In January 2004, Upstream was approved for a SBA-guaranteed 7(a) loan from Security National Bank for $750,000 to pay for a new brewhouse, kitchen equipment and furnishings for its new West Omaha location. When they opened the two-story place with a lower level, a build-to-suit with a lease agreement, Magee said, they created 130 full- and part-time jobs. But Magee wasn’t the only pioneer in the then-untapped marketplace. At the time, there were few eateries available; two years later, more than 65 popped up in an eight square mile area surrounding Upstream’s location. The rapid expansion of new restaurants was great for area residents but Magee said it was tough for everyone in the business. Several years passed by with modest sales growth. Many restaurants closed and were replaced by other restaurants.
But Upstream never skimped on the quality that made them popular. They were tabbed "One of Omaha’s Top Ten Restaurants" by the Omaha World-Herald, and are annual winners of several “Best of Omaha” Awards.
And their signature brews began to chalk up the awards. At the World Beer Cup in San Diego, Upstream took home a gold medal for its Upstream Grand Cru, a silver for its Dundee Scotch Ale and a bronze for its unique Phat Flemish Red Ale. They also earned a Top 25 Beer of the Year two years in a row from DRAFT Magazine for their Dortmunder Lager.
With the nationwide recession in late 2008, Upstream began feeling the pinch at their West Omaha location. They knew that their lease was coming to an end, and their monthly payments would go way up if they renewed. So Magee and his partner sought to buy the property outright.
“With those increased payments, we looked at a possibility of not to retaining this site or moving somewhere else,” Magee said. “We liked to stay for the long haul, and continue to establish our position here in the neighborhood.”
Putting the deal together with the 504 program
Magee reached out to Centennial Bank, the SBA’s Small Lender of the Year for Nebraska in 2010, and Community Development Resources (CDR) in Lincoln, to finance the project under the SBA’s 504 program
The 504 Loan Program provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire fixed assets for expansion or modernization. These loans are made available through Certified Development Companies (CDC), such as CDR, SBA's community-based partners for providing 504 loans. This program calls for the participating lender to provide half the financing, with the SBA offering 40 percent of the costs financed through the CDC.
By June 2012, Upstream was approved for a $1.4 million 504 loan to purchase the location. It’s safe to say the access to capital not only improved the look of the balance sheet, but was crucial in preserving up to 130 jobs at the brewpub.
“Without the SBA, no way we could have gotten this done,” he said. “We now have room to breathe. We’ve reduced our occupancy expense by 25 percent, a significant amount. Plus, we won’t see our rent increasing every five years.”
Magee said the cash saved with the purchase and steady monthly payments will allow Upstream to perform some needed maintenance, upgrade equipment and he has plans for a beer garden or covered private party space out on the location’s former back patio.
With steady loan payments long into the future, Magee has positioned Upstream’s location to leverage the continued westerly growth of the city. While the recession slowed building activity in the area, Magee said demand for unique restaurant services is expected to rise.
“There are 5,000 to 6,000 residential lots in the area, and a lot of the empty ones are going to start filling in,” Magee said. “Then you think about the 450 to 500 people who will move into the new apartment development across the street. The city has mandated new sidewalks to go with them. All of a sudden this area becomes a pedestrian community, and that’s great for us and the other restaurants in the Legacy Development, since we’re right here for people who want to relax after work or on the weekends.”