NASHVILLE, TN--(Marketwire - September 29, 2010) -  The Tennessee Rural Opportunity Fund managed by Pathway Lending has received an Excellence in Economic Development Award in the category of Business Retention and Expansion from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). The honor was presented at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, September 28 during the IEDC Annual Conference, September 26-29 in Columbus, Ohio.

Launched in 2007, the Fund has made over $9 million in loans to businesses located in rural communities throughout Tennessee, creating 200 new jobs and retaining approximately 400 existing positions. Almost 70% of these loans have been provided to women- or minority-owned businesses. 

"We recognize The Rural Opportunity Fund as a successful strategy to promote new paradigms in economic development in this period of global recovery," said William Best, IEDC chair. "Our awards honor organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in communities. This public-private initiative is at the forefront of the economic development profession by using innovative and effective practices that can be replicated in other communities."

The Excellence in Economic Awards Program annually recognizes the world's best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and the year's most influential leaders. The program honors organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

"My congratulations to the Tennessee Rural Opportunity Fund and our partners at Pathway Lending on winning this prestigious award," said Matt Kisber, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. "Governor Bredesen and the members of the Tennessee General Assembly have viewed the Rural Opportunity Fund as a key strategy for building our state's rural economy and giving rural entrepreneurs access to capital. This recognition is a testament to the program's success."

The Fund is a public-private partnership between the State of Tennessee, 23 member banks of the Tennessee Bankers Association, and Pathway Lending that utilizes a unique collaborative access to capital strategy to lend to small businesses in Tennessee's rural communities. It is a component of the Rural Opportunity Initiative, a three-pronged strategy unveiled by Governor Phil Bredesen in fall of 2007 to bolster economic growth in rural areas.

"The Tennessee Bankers Association understands the importance of this public-private partnership with the State of Tennessee and Pathway Lending. The Tennessee Rural Opportunity Fund provides our member banks an opportunity to meet the capital needs of rural entrepreneurs that are not ready for traditional financing," according to Brad Barrett, President of the TBA.

The Fund was designed to be a business retention and expansion tool, and has become a resource for economic developers to use when helping businesses overcome financing barriers.

"There is an overwhelming need for small business capital in rural Tennessee and we are focused on getting our resources in the hands of those who need it most," said Pathway Lending president Clint Gwin. "Banks can't meet the needs of all businesses, which is why our focused financial and mentoring resources are so important to rural economic growth."

About IEDC
The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) is the premier membership organization dedicated to helping economic development professionals create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities and improve the quality of life in their regions. Serving more than 4,500 members, IEDC represents the largest network of economic development professionals in the world. IEDC provides a diverse range of services, including conferences, certification, professional development, publications, research, advisory services and legislative tracking.

About Pathway Lending
Pathway Lending is a non-profit, economic development organization providing financial products and related coaching services to businesses across Tennessee. Headquartered in Nashville, Pathway Lending has additional branches in Knoxville, Kingsport and Jackson, Tennessee. Pathway Lending is certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Treasury Department.