SWIFT calls on South Waikato businesses to think big

The sky is the limit for South Waikato businesses looking for a loan from South Waikato Investment Fund Trust (SWIFT), which has reset its minimum business loans to $50,000.

SWIFT has also reset its grants, which are available to not-for-profit organisations that either deliver educational and training opportunities to enable people to enter the workforce or support community infrastructure that encourages business investment to improve the quality of life in the district.

SWIFT has increased its minimum grants to $25,000 and will consider approaches for multi-year funding support.  Applications for community grants will be open from 1 August and close on 15 September.

“Large scale impact is the focus,” says SWIFT CEO Amanda Hema, who took over the role in late 2021.  “This is all about incentivising growth.” Ms Hema says SWIFT has published its new grant and loan criteria on its website to give clarity and transparency to applicants.

The reset is part of SWIFT’s new five-year strategic plan which, over the next three years, will focus on:

  • Managing and leveraging SWIFT’s current portfolio of investments to deliver the best outcomes for South Waikato
  • Supporting South Waikato’s existing industries and established businesses to succeed and grow
  • Working with South Waikato’s key industries to ensure they can access the workforce and skills they need to succeed

SWIFT makes loans as a registered financial services provider. “Our five-year discounted loans can be transformational to a business,” says Ms Hema. “Our interest rates are usually less than market rates and we are very community focused. Businesses must be located or in the process of relocating or expanding in South Waikato to receive a loan.

“With all new loans our Community Liaison Co-ordinator will introduce the business to our training and employment partners and makes regular check-ins. When the loan finishes, we don’t step out of the picture, we can scaffold them into another loan arrangement to support further growth plans.”

Sam Wulff, Director of Putāruru-based steel building frame company Green Frame, says SWIFT financed and took security over three steel roll forming machines worth several hundred thousand dollars enabling the company’s owners to use their money for intangible set-up costs.

Mr Wulff says Green Frame’s steel framing is being used instead of timber framing in everything from tiny homes and cabins to family homes and commercial and industrial buildings. “A big advantage in these times of building product shortages is that the steel can be rolled in a week.”

Green Frame is also developing one, two and three bedroom modular homes that can be delivered on the back of a trailer and assembled on-site. “By having the SWIFT loan we have capital free to develop these new products.”

Van Dam Plumbing 2020 owner Stephen Mulholland says a five year SWIFT loan helped the company to replace a 30 year old 1.7 tonne digger with a new Kobelco 2.5 tonne digger, buy a top-of-the-line Ifor Williams trailer and a Toyota Hiace van and take on five new staff including a plumber, three apprentices and an administrator to help meet growing customer demand.

“The SWIFT loan is great. My partner Jade Corry and I used our savings and bank loans to buy the business in 2020 but we needed extra finance for new equipment and staff to effectively service customer needs. We do a lot of rural work like septic tanks and effluent fields and the old digger was past it and we needed more people.

“We got the SWIFT loan in 2021 and it is locked at a below market interest rate for five years. One of the loan conditions was that we had to take on three new staff by 2026. We achieved that in the first few months and have just hired another two. After COVID the workload in the district has increased dramatically.”

Besides the loans to individual businesses with high growth potential, SWIFT supports a range of workforce development programmes in the South Waikato district including:

  • Access to free driving licence training for all rangatahi (young people of any ethnicity)
  • The Generation forestry training programme in partnership with the Central North Island Wood Council, Te Uru Rākau (New Zealand Forest Service), Forest Growers Levy Trust, the South Waikato District Council, and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.
  • Training scholarships through Toi Ohomai
  • A partnership with WorkIT, the South Waikato District Council’s employment agency for young people

SWIFT’s longer term strategic priorities from 2024 will also include :

  • Making the case for the infrastructure needed to support the growth of the South Waikato economy
  • Developing South Waikato’s sectors of comparative advantage to create a productive and resilient economy
  • Attracting new investment into South Waikato to deepen our capabilities and support new employment opportunities

SWIFT Chair Bruce Sherman said besides its new strategy the Trust has had a governance reset moving from eight directors to six. With some recent retirements the board is seeking two new board members to broaden the board’s diversity and inclusion.

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