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<p>SCHENECTADY, NY – Members wanting to start their own businesses or increase capital for established ventures, now have access to U.S. Small Business Administration loans through Sunmark Federal Credit Union. The loans are available to members to use for working capital, real estate, machinery and other equipment and carry amounts up to $2 million, said Gerry Parkes, Sunmark’s business loan officer. “This is a much-needed outlet and because credit unions are new to business lending, we’re treading lightly,” Parkes said. “We don’t want to lose our members to other institutions and this is a way to fulfill their small business needs.” Parkes said the credit union saw a need to assist members who may not have the necessary credit worthiness to obtain a business loan and were not able to secure traditional financing from other financial institutions. The interest rates and fees vary with the type of loan, and credit worthiness and generally carry a term of up to seven years. Applicants also have to meet various criteria determined mainly by the SBA to have access to the loans including having less than 500 employees and a certain asset size. Since the SBA program recently launched, one loan closed in February and there are several more on the books, Parkes said. In a move that is not surprising, given the makeup of Schenectady, a city where General Electric (GE) is one of the area’s largest employer and the credit union’s original sponsor, Sunmark was initially chartered as GE Turbine Federal Credit Union and merged with Watervliet Arsenal FCU in 2000. “There’s been a lot of spin-offs and layoffs with GE and some of the machinists who worked there may have started their own businesses,” Parkes said, adding the marketplace of small business owners here “It’s still an unknown factor for us but we’re working on that.” Indeed, Schenectady, one of the oldest cities in the nation, also has 15 colleges throughout the surrounding region, many with highly-regarded engineering schools, Parkes said. As a result, the city also boasts an advanced technology, highly-educated workforce, he added. There’s also a solid manufacturing sector, steady tourism revenue stream and a newly revitalized downtown, which includes the headquarters of a large insurance health maintenance organization. All these factors came into play when Sunmark made the decision to contact its local SBA office last July to inquire on the process of offering the loans. Working with the local office and national office in Washington, the procedure involved providing information on Sunmark’s policy and financial statements. Parkes and other credit union staff attended a two-day training SBA session. Meanwhile, Sunmark has seen such rapid growth in the past year that it is doubling the size of its Schenectady headquarters and plans to add 15 new employees. In April, Sunmark-which serves employees at GE Power Systems and 180 other businesses-also expanded its charter to include anyone living, working, worshiping or going to school in the city. The expanded charter added 1,220 new members, $11 million in loans and $3.5 million in deposits. Culling data from questionnaires recently sent out to members, Parkes estimates that 5% of Sunmark’s 35,000-membership base either owns their own business, has a spouse who is self-employed or is thinking of starting their own operation. “At times, we’ve seen requests for credit that have merit but the risk is greater than what the credit union can bear,” Parkes said. “Because of the merits, we can pursue those loans now.” -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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