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Rock Cafe thrives on Oklahoma loan program: Oklahoma Capital Invetment Board has already produced $881 million economic benefit

by Brian Brus
The Journal Record
March 3, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Rock Cafe in Stroud wouldn't have survived - much less thrived - over the last few years if not for a little-known loan program through the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board, restaurant owner Dawn Welch said.

"Without that funding, I would definitely not be able to do the business I'm doing now," she said. The Oklahoma Capital Access Program helped her gain access to a loan to restore the Route 66 landmark and bring the building up to code. "It worked out really good and really helped me get it off the ground."

The Oklahoma Capital Investment Board has produced an $881 million economic benefit since its inception 13 years ago, a Phoenix-based consulting firm revealed in a sponsored study. The board's capital access program has helped about 760 small- and medium-size companies; of the companies that provided data for researchers, it was found that 331 of them had created 1,175 new jobs and $33.1 million in payroll.

"We are obviously pleased by the results of this study, although not surprised," board President Devon Sauzek said. "We have always believed these programs would bear fruit. By encouraging the growth of the local venture capital industry we create jobs and diversify our state's economy."

In the case of Rock Cafe, Welch was able to apply the Capital Access Program funding to replace 60-year-old wiring, put in new heat and air conditioning system, restore the original neon sign and return the building to its original layout.

"The federal government was offering grants to historical landmarks along Route 66, but I needed $30,000 in matching funds to get the grant," said Welch, who has owned the Rock Cafe for about 13 years. "It was well worth the grant. The cafe was already a fun place to be for tourists, but now we've been able to secure its future further on down the road. I probably wouldn't have been able to keep it open without that work getting done."

The cafe, built in 1939, predates the more famous Hard Rock Cafe, she said. Welch's restaurant was built with rock unearthed during the paving of now-historic Route 66.

Bobby Wade kicked off his own business in much the same way. The Wellston contractor and construction expert also turned to the investment board for a badly needed loan.

"Being a small contractor, I knew that in order to grow, I needed to get more business going, but I didn't have a lot of assets to get the loan on my own and grow my business," he said. Wade credits the Capital Access Program guarantee with helping his business grow to 13 employees.

Both Wade and Welch applied for their loans through branches of Stroud National Bank, which participates in the program.

The Rock Cafe is expected to make an appearance of sorts in the upcoming Pixar feature animated film, Cars. Welch said animator John Lasseter visited the cafe several times in recent years for research.

Welch said the movie can't hurt growing interest in Route 66, which will further boost tourism.

Brian Brus reports on metro area government, finance, agriculture and other issues. You may reach him by phone at (405) 278-2837 or by e-mail, brian.brus@journalrecord.com.