SEED Selects The Learning Garden Inc. as “Start-Up Business of the Year” for 2015

Learning Garden

The South Eastern Economic Development (SEED) Corporation has selected The Learning Garden, Inc. of Warwick, RI as the “Start-Up Small Business of the Year” for 2015. The award will be presented at SEED’s 33rd Annual Meeting at 5:30 pm on Thursday, November 19 at White’s of Westport in Westport, Ma.

“We are very pleased to present our “Start-Up Small Business of the Year” award to The  Learning Garden, Inc., a woman owned small business which in three years has grown to  eight employees by focusing on each child, and providing a healthy, safe and nurturing environment for children” stated Maria Gooch-Smith, SEED’s executive director.

SEED’s Nominating Committee selected The Learning Garden, Inc. from a pool of 150 candidates.  SEED’s criteria included enhancement of the region’s economy through job creation, and financial performance.

The Learning Garden, Inc. is a home like childcare center located in the old general store in the historic neighborhood of Warwick Neck. The center has four classrooms and provides full time care to children from six weeks to five years of age. The center currently has capacity for 44 children but will be expanding in the next  year.

The Learning Garden’s curriculum meets Rhode Island’s Early Learning Standards while following the nationally recognized Creative Curriculum approach of learning through play. Each classroom has been set up to encourage a variety of experiences that keep children stimulated and engaged throughout the day, and enable them to learn through play.

Raquel Fortuna and Carla Kaplan are equal owners of the daycare center. Raquel serves as the center’s director and oversees day to day operations. She has over 12 years of experience in the industry, and has a degree from the University of Rhode Island. Carla serves in a business management capacity and has an MBA from Bryant University.

In 2012, SEED provided the Learning Garden, Inc. with a $76,000 loan in conjunction with financing from Greenwood Credit Union for the purchase of a 3,600 square foot commercial building in Warwick, RI to establish a daycare facility and relocate the business from the owner’s home.

This year, SEED has approved a $335,000 SBA 504 loan in conjunction with financing from Greenwood Credit Union for a real estate project totaling $805,000 to finance the 2,485 square foot expansion of the daycare center. The project will add three new classrooms and enable the Learning Garden to accommodate up to 79 children, and add seven new staff positions.

At the Annual Meeting, SEED will also present the “Small Business of the Year” to Distron Corporation of North Attleboro, Ma. and the “Banker of the Year” to the lender in the region who has participated in the largest amount of loans with SEED, and exemplifies the spirit of assistance to small businesses.

The guest speaker at SEED’s Annual Meeting, Seth Goodall, the New England Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), will be assisting with the award presentations.

At the meeting, SEED members will vote on a slate for officers, directors and members for 2015. The slate for SEED Officers includes: Gerard Nadeau, Chair (Rockland Trust Company); Richard Shafer, Vice Chair (Taunton Development Corporation); Jennifer Menard, Vice Chair (Bristol Community College); Lorraine Travers, CPA, Treasurer; Robert Reisner, Assistant Treasurer (Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank); William Lewis, Clerk (Bristol County Savings Bank); and Wayne Carvalho, Assistant Clerk (First Citizens Federal Credit Union).

In 2015, under all its programs, SEED made 77 small business loans totaling $22.1 million, and creating 344 new jobs,” explained Gooch-Smith.  She added that SEED’s total active portfolio of small business loans is $105 million.

SEED is a non-profit corporation certified in late 1982 by the SBA.  Under all its programs, SEED provides financing ranging from a $1,000 micro loan to a $5.5 million SBA 504 loan to small businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

SEED’s directors and members are community leaders who represent small businesses, financial institutions, local officials and community organizations.  Members meet on an annual basis to elect a board of directors and officers.  For more information about the Annual Meeting and SEED’s programs call 508-822-1020 or visit

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