DECAUTER, Tenn. -- A group of manufacturers, industrialists and entrepreneurs is spearheading an effort to found a low-income, community chartered credit union in the sparsely populated Meigs County in Tennessee.
If it opens on time in July of this year, the Mid East Tennessee Community Credit Union will be the most recently chartered Tennessee credit union. It will start business designated as a low-income credit union serving the entire county, even though it was a few of the small county's employers who worked hard for the CU's charter.
"We had begun to observe that many of our employees would need to get payment advances from us from time to time," explained Jim Pitt, CEO of Polyform, Inc., a plastic manufacturing firm and a leading supporter of the credit union. "The county has two branch banks but their minimum loan amount is $3,000 and it's unclear that many of the folks who need the help would qualify for those anyway."
So Pitt and a few others decided that the county needed a credit union; a local, home grown financial institution that would serve more than just the employees of any one firm, but the entire county and even those who don't live in Meigs County but work there.
But Pitt and the others had no idea, until they met with the Tennessee Credit Union League, how difficult a road they had chosen, according to Criss Browning, director of development for the league. Still, where many other credit union organizers grow discouraged after finding out what chartering a credit union will take, the Meigs county group only got more enthusiastic, Browning said.
"I don't know that this group will make it all the way to chartering a CU, but if they don't make it, I don't know what group could do it," Browning said. Browning attributed the group's progress and eventual success in chartering the credit union, should it do so, to the group's background in business and its positive, enthusiastic attitude.
"These are people who have been around business for some time, who know how to work with business plans and statements and who know how to organize," Browning said. "Some groups, when they come to see me, just don't have a clue about what to do."
Tom Gaines, president of the league, echoed Browning's comments. "You know, I will meet with these groups for just a few minutes at a time," he said, "so I can't really form more than a gut reaction about them and about whether they have what it is going to take. This group has always struck me as having what it takes and they haven't done anything to make me change my impression yet."
There is also an element among the organizers that they want the credit union to belong in and with the Meigs County community. Pitt said he and other organizers had sought out nearby existing credit unions to see if they might be interested in setting up a branch in the community, but said that he had gotten the impression that the other CUs were not certain about putting a branch in the small community.
Browning estimated that Pitt and other organizers are just more interested in starting up the credit union in the county as a home-grown effort than they are in getting a branch set up from outside.
Pitt acknowledged that the process had been long and difficult, but he said the organizers broke the effort down into stages and steps and then set out to tackle each one as it came. They made it past one particular hurdle, Pitt said, when the local electric utility agreed to include the credit union organizer's survey about the desire for a credit union with its customer statements.
Pitt said the fact that the new CU will have a low-income designation has helped with its effort to raise capital and that the organizers had both personal and institutional investment commitments. He said the CU already had a location chosen and the prospective landlord allowed the organizers to hang a sign on the building reading "future home of the Mid-East Tennessee Community Credit Union," he explained.
Pitt said that he and the group of entrepreneurs and CEOs had worked for over a year to organize the credit union, receiving a great deal of help and encouragement from the Tennessee regulator and NCUA.
Browning said he was not positive that the CU would finish being chartered by July, but said he felt confident the chartering would come soon. "Everything about this suggests to me that they are going succeed," he said. --email@example.com