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New Tallahassee banking initiative to help low-income communities

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Labarron Smith has co-owned and operated Empire Fitness on North Monroe Street in Tallahassee for more than a month. He said his love of fitness and healthy living inspired him to start his own gym.

“It’s something I’ve always loved and always believed in, I mean my major is exercise science,” Labarron said.

Despite his knowledge of health and fitness, he faced a different challenge when starting his business.

He worked with the Capital Chamber of Commerce on financial education and options that allowed him to qualify for things like a low-interest loan.

“In your mind, you just know you need money to get started,” Smith said. “When I arrived with the chamber they let me know that you don’t have to use your own money, that’s what business loans are for.”

The capital’s Chamber of Commerce now hopes to provide the same guidance to Tallahassee residents through the Bank On initiative.

Katrina Tuggerson, Speaker of the House, said that for the past three years she has been looking for community solutions to fight poverty, finding the Bank On initiative in 2021, she met with their leadership team to bring the project in Tallahassee.

“We allow financial institutions to come together as a coalition,” Tuggerson said. “We will unveil our website which will contain all the resources that if this financial institution cannot meet your needs, you may be able to go here.”

The Bank on the initiative, also in cities across the country like Chicago, Philadelphia and Savanna, will also focus on providing financial education to people who otherwise might not have the knowledge they have. need to make the best financial decisions.

The initiative will show community members the benefits of using banks for things like loans, rather than payday loan services which can have high interest rates.

Mesha Ware who works with both Capital City Chamber and Prime Meridian Bank.

She helps launch the bank on the initiative and has seen firsthand the downside of turning to these payday loan services.

“What it does is provide easier access, even if it costs the consumer more in the long run than having a banking relationship,” Ware said.