Banking & Finance

717 Expands Business Services as Loan Portfolio Grows

WARREN, Ohio — While working on a home remodeling project 10 years ago, David Clark found the materials he needed at big-box stores were too expensive.

Clark, who has experience in retail, knew he could buy the same brand-name materials for less at store closeouts, liquidation sales, overstock sales and auctions.

With this idea, he decided to start his own business, Clarky’s Closeouts, to sell brand-name building materials at or below wholesale prices at a storefront in Warren and online.

To expand his decade-old business, he met with Seven Seventeen Credit Union’s commercial lenders who helped him finance his business by extending a loan so he could buy new business trucks, open a line of credit to finance his inventory and get a commercial mortgage on his warehouse.

“It’s been stress-free for sure,” Clark says. “It was very easy to deal with them for commercial lending and it was my first time dealing with a commercial loan. It was very easy going.”

In 2017, Seven Seventeen Credit Union’s commercial loan portfolio grew to $24 million, up 6% from the previous year, reports its senior vice president of lending, Bill Fulk.

2017 is also the same year that Seven Seventeen opened a small-business center in its headquarters on Larchmont Avenue in Warren.

“We open the most business accounts at the Larchmont office, so we wanted something more visible,” Eric Lanham, senior vice president of marketing, says.

As you walk through the branch doors, you immediately see a sign for the center, which is straight ahead. It provides space where business owners can sit down and meet one-on-one with business services specialist Jeannette Bartko-Gootee, who has been with Seven Seventeen 14 years.

The center helps small-business owners identify their needs for finance and treasury management services.

The most common reason business owners meet with Bartko-Gootee is to open business checking and deposit accounts or change the authorized signers on an existing business account, she says.

New free business-checking account openings increased 9% in 2017, Bartko-Gootee reports.

Others use the center to establish services such as payroll, accept payment via a business debit or credit card, take out a commercial mortgage or establish or increase their credit lines or get a lower rate through a Small Business Administration loan guarantee.

New and established business owners seek Bartko-Gootee’s counsel about how they can make optimal use of Seven Seventeen products in their business, or how they can maximize its banking resources to benefit their business, she says.

Lanham adds, “Especially if they’re newer, they don’t even realize all the things needed to set up their business. We work as a partner, not just to open the account, but to get them set in the right direction to operate the business. And if they have a lending need, we will put them in touch with Brett [Carnahan].”

Carnahan, vice president of commercial lending, joined Seven Seventeen 18 years ago, about the same time that the credit union began offering commercial loans. “We’ve had three years in a row where we’ve seen good numbers in terms of loans booked and new customer relationships, and cross sales into other products,” he says.

In the past year, Carnahan notes, the most common commercial loan taken out is a mortgage to finance both owner-occupied real estate and where the owner is just the landlord.

Other loans in lesser volume are equipment lending to trucking companies, small manufacturers, print shops and niche industries; working capital credit lines; and Small Business Administration 504 loans in partnership with the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp.

The SBA 504 loans “help businesses with limited capital, but good cash flow move forward,” Carnahan says.

Seven Seventeen takes a community lending approach that its commercial lenders hope to see reflected in the communities it serves: storefronts improved, new buildings going up and new businesses coming to town and hiring employees from the community, Fulk says.

“We partner with the business and we want to see the business become successful,” Fulk says. “Because the people that work here are our friends and neighbors, we don’t want to see that business struggle. We want to see it thrive and be successful long term and employ more people.”

Pictured above: Bill Fulk, Jeannette Bartko-Gootee, Brett Carnahan and Eric Lanham work with business members at 717 Credit Union.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.