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BLOOMINGTON - When Joe Diemer opened a small custom plastic molding shop in the Twin Cities about eight years ago, it was a part-time venture linked with another company.

By 2006, he left his full-time job at State Farm Insurance Cos. to devote all of his attention to Midwest Molding Solutions.

With sales nearly doubling since, he's now ready to exchange his cramped leased space at 2906 Gill St. for one that offers twice the size and the opportunity for ownership.

"The land also allows future growth," said Diemer, whose company makes custom molded plastics for such things as hand tools, automotive parts, building components and agriculture products.

To make it all work, Diemer is one of a growing number of business owners who was linked to the McLean County Revolving Loan Fund.

"It's designed to fill the gap in financing," said Marty Vanags, executive director of the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area, which helps coordinate the program. "It's great for small businesses and bankers. It helps them close a deal they might not have been able to make."

In Diemer's case, the fund will provide the $100,000 he needs for electrical upgrades, repairs and renovations to the new site - the former Humane Society of Central Illinois building at 3001 Gill St. First Farmers State Bank of Bloomington has loaned Diemer the money to purchase the building.

"We're taking property and putting it back on the tax rolls," said Diemer.

The company also expects to add seven full-time equivalent jobs next year, he said.

Vanags said that's part of the Revolving Loan Fund requirements. A company pledges to create or retain one full-time equivalent job for every $15,000 it receives from the fund. At least 51 percent of those jobs must benefit low- to moderate-income people.

Thirteen businesses have taken advantage of the loan fund since it became available in the late 1980s, according to McLean County Treasurer Rebecca McNeil. Most recently, the McLean County Board approved loans for Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works in Normal and Coffee Hound in uptown Normal.

Only two businesses have defaulted on the loans - Laesch Dairy and Bear Computing, according to McNeil and County Administrator John Zeunik. The county currently is negotiating with Boitnott Foods, which received a $150,000 loan to open a west Bloomington grocery that has since closed. Five loans have been paid back in full.

Zeunik said the fund started after Edwards Warren Tire Co. - the predecessor to Bridgestone/Firestone OTR - received a $500,000 federal grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in 1987. The idea behind the grant was to establish a loan program, he said.

"As the company paid back the loan, it would go into (the revolving loan fund)," Zeunik said.

The biggest stimulus for the fund was when American OTR, which purchased Edwards Warren, paid off the loan in full before the term date, Zeunik said.

"There was an infusion of $500,000 plus interest," he said.

McNeil said the fund recaptured $146,024 in interest from that loan and has since recaptured $144,583 in interest from other revolving fund loans. The fund has earned $363,283 through investments.

"The interest allows the fund to grow and sustain itself," McNeil said.

Currently, the fund has $679,000 available for lending, she said. That does not include the county's commitment to Destihl or Midwest Molding Solutions. The current five active loans total $430,000, McNeil said. Just under $62,000 of that has been paid back.

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