Barry and Gilda Boyer both moved to Cedar Rapids as young children, after their fathers accepted jobs at Collins Radio, now Rockwell Collins. Though they’ve traveled extensively, they’ve chosen to build their home in Linn County. “Cedar Rapids remains our community of choice,” says Gilda. “And it’s really because of the people here.”
Both Boyers attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon and built careers in Cedar Rapids: Gilda as an attorney at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll and Barry as an executive at Van Meter. Gilda’s interest in philanthropy led her to serve on the board of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, and the family established the Boyer Family Fund to give back to causes they care about. “Gilda and I are great believers that you pay it forward,” reflects Barry.
Years of business and philanthropic engagement in Cedar Rapids led the Boyers to recognize an unmet need in our community. “For entrepreneurs, everyday American businesses, going to banks can be daunting,” says Barry. “We felt there was a gap in access for people with great ideas, but not as many resources.”
They had long recognized that small businesses were the backbone of the local economy. “You look even at businesses like Rockwell Collins — even they started as a small business,” says Barry. “We knew that if we wanted to grow the economy, we needed to make it easier for folks to get started.”
So the Boyers reached out to Les Garner, President & CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, who they thought might be able to recognize a role for private philanthropy in addressing this need. “In typical fashion, he listened and then went to do some thinking, and what he came back with was a great idea,” says Gilda.
Les thought there might be an opportunity to partner private philanthropy with the City’s unused Flood Relief Funds, and to build a network of support with already existing partners like the East Central Iowa Council of Government, SCORE, the Kirkwood Small Business Development Center and the Cedar Rapids Public Library. He started making calls, and with the Boyers’ idea worked to establish MICRO, a microloan program for small business owners in Cedar Rapids.
One year after the establishment of MICRO, the Boyers are thrilled. “You never know where your idea is going to go and I couldn’t be happier that this project has come to fruition,” says Barry. “There are people in this community who are willing to say, we’ve never done this before, but this makes sense, let’s figure it out.”
While he’s happy with the creation of the program, he’s also hoping it will continue to grow in the years to come. “I like to dream big. I’d love to see this fund be a half a million or a million dollar revolving loan. Paying it back and paying it forward.”
He’s optimistic too. “These things take time,” he says, “but there’s energy around this idea.”
As of May, 2017, the MICRO program has provided seven loans to small businesses, including The Pig & Porter Restaurant in Cedar Rapids.