CHICAGO (CBS) — Small businesses looking for small amounts of money are not always worth the effort for big banks. But, as CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, a little-known city program has been able to find them millions.

About 90 percent of all businesses in Chicago are small, employing fewer than 100 people, but their smaller needs are often ignored by banks.

Many turn to pricey credit cards or risk personal retirement accounts to fund improvements or expand. They don’t have to.

You might say business is blooming for Sondra Thomas. A loan of just $15,000 gave her the ability to buy her neighborhood floral shop, My Bouquet, in the Beverly neighborhood last year.

That kind of micro-loan, which isn’t worth the effort of big banks, allowed Thomas to create a business that’s since hired three full-time workers.

“Being able to get a loan to not only to help me, but it’s helping a lot of other people, is a great feeling,” Thomas said.

“Big banks are not in the micro loan business,” said Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely.

But in a way, Neely is. The lease of the Chicago Skyway provided her office with $1 million dollars a year for small business loans.

Neely has created a program concentrating on micro loans, ranging from $50,000 to as little as $2,000. They are amounts businesses owners often can only raise through high-interest credit cards or personal savings.

“A lot of small businesses don’t have the ability to go to a bank with tiny loans. … People dig into their 401(k)s, into their IRA accounts, ” Neely said.

Since 2009, the program has helped approve more than 115 loans. Continuing the program requires support from City Council, and Neely was lobbying for that support on Tuesday.

“For every dollar lent, micro loans create and retain more jobs than larger traditional loans,” said Neely in her testimony.

Turning to a credit card for this kind of money can mean interest rates well north of 15 percent. Rates are as low as 5.25 percent through the treasurer’s program.

Six lenders run the program for Treasurer Neely’s office. For more information on the program visit the City Treasurer’s website.

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