PORTLAND, Ore. (11/27/12)--Just how much difference can a single member business loan (MBL) make? Ask DA Hilderbrand of Portland, Ore. The small business loan he received years ago from Portland-based Unitus Community CU has made a significant impact on the community--and created 100 jobs to boot, according to the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).
Hilderbrand saw opportunity when he purchased a dilapidated building scheduled for demolishing by the city. "First we had to clean it out," he told NWCUA (Anthem Recap Nov. 23). It took more than a year to haul away 120,000 cubic feet of junk and save 29 feral cats.
What attracted Hilderbrand was the building's architectural history and the opportunity to bring "Pearl District quality" to Northeast Portland, at much lower business rental rates. What is now the Gotham Building opened in 2002 and quickly filled up with successful businesses.
However, the building next door, an abandoned "Historic Yellow Building," posed a fire hazard to the renovated Gotham Building. So Hildebrand decided to buy the property, clean it up, expand the Gotham, and create more jobs. That was in 2007. When he went looking for a loan, banks refused to provide the loan needed. But Unitus Community CU did.
"Unitus took a lot more interest in the community aspect of what I was doing instead of just going by the numbers," Hilderbrand told the league. "Other banks never even asked why I wanted to do this." He credited Unitus' former board chairman, the late Barbara Leonard, for championing the project and its financing. "She liked the idea of bringing more jobs back to that area. That's what they were all about."
Today, says NWCUA, the Gotham Building is a "monument to small business success." It houses design firms that land national contracts, computer software businesses, accounting businesses, a new wellness clinic and a popular restaurant. Roughly 100 people work at the businesses.
Hilderbrand told NWCUA he may ask the credit union for another MBL, this time to save an industrial warehouse to create more space for small business. He noted his adviser at Unitus visits and brings colleagues along to show off the example Gotham has set. "It speaks to more than just a financial commitment. They really are interested in what we are doing. Those are the kinds of people I want to do business with," he said.
Hilderbrand is urging Congress to pass S. 2231, the bill to raise the MBL cap for credit unions to 27.5% of assets from 12.25%, said NWCUA. Increasing the cap would generate 140,000 new jobs the first year, without cost to taxpayers, said the Credit Union National Association. What's more, it would generate $13 billion for new small business loans.