By RANDY WILCOX
I found my way to Whidbey in one of the usual ways. Fifty years ago, our annual summer vacation on Sunlight Beach coincided with great weather and my parent’s chance visit to a piece of property they fell in love with. Back then a commute to Seattle was more predictable so we moved, my father commuted and I spent my boyhood in Langley.
In 1977 I gave a graduation speech and, like most of my class, left for school and a career that often took me to locations that were a long way from Whidbey. Three years ago I was fortunate to retire a bit early and return as a full-time resident.
Occasionally, I miss the island I left but mostly I treasure the island I returned to. One of the wonderful and unique surprises I found on returning was the Whidbey Island Local Lending network (WILL). WILL is a network of individuals who are interested in supporting the community by providing loans to those starting or expanding businesses on the island.
If you’ve shopped at the newly remodeled Bayview Garden Center, enjoyed a beer at the Tap Room, a loaf of bread from Sundance Bakery, a bagel from Whidbey Island Bagel Bakery or a meal at Portico or Orchard Kitchen, you’ve benefited from WILL. WILL has helped companies like Flickerfeather Press, Whidbey Island Printing and Office Supply and our own magazine, Whidbey Life, provide services that make island living more convenient for all of us. Individuals associated with WILL have provided over $1.5 million in loans to over 32 enterprises, employing more than 100 people right here on Whidbey.
The WILL network also includes volunteers who help local entrepreneurs refine their business plans. This can help them secure bank financing, but in many cases they find a loan from someone in the WILL network to be quicker and less costly. Regulations and their associated costs have made it difficult for banks to make small loans attractive, and individual lenders are usually willing to make decisions much faster than loan committees. This is particularly true when that individual lender is a customer who values the product or service being brought to the island.
Erin and Ian Rodriguez opened Salish Sea Physical Therapy with the help of the WILL network. Here’s what they had to say about the experience.
“Families on Whidbey must work a little harder and be a bit more creative to live successfully here. WILL was there for us when we were trying to start a business, unexpectedly out of work, and preparing for a new addition to our family. Life was already stressful. WILL allowed us to survive, then thrive. We received much more than financial support from the members of the community who gave us loans. I consider them cheerleaders and mentors. Our loan felt like a gift. You cannot say that about any bank loan. Thanks for keeping this going! If this works as planned, we will be WILL lenders one day (we gotta get the kids through college first)!”
So… if you have the vision and passion to build a business here in our community (or, if you’d like to participate as a lender), go to whidbeylocallending.wordpress.com and see how WILL can help you and help make our island an even better place to live.
Randy Wilcox is a Whidbey Island Local Lending lender and a Clinton resident.