Spokane’s Aqua Elite Spurring Growth with Credit Union MBL

Some people are born into the life of business ownership.

Others grow into it.

For lifelong Spokanite Jessica Huey, co-owner of Aqua Elite, a company specializing in selling, installing and servicing pools, spas and fireplaces, becoming a business owner was a perfect marriage of coincidence.

“I became a partner in the business after my husband started the business and his previous partner didn’t work out,” says Huey. “We’ve owned it together for six years.”

The Hueys are part of a struggling-but-recovering small-business community in Spokane that includes 99.82 percent of all Spokane businesses, according to developingspokane.org. Additionally, Aqua Elite’s three employees place the business among more than 70 percent of all Spokane businesses that also employ fewer than 10 people.

In 2008, after just two years in business, Jessica and Mike Huey’s business faced severe tumult when the U.S. economy slipped into a deep recession, and financing through traditional sources became next to impossible to secure.

A recent Pepperdine University survey indicated that nearly one-quarter of small-business owners sought a bank loan in the last year, with a full 57 percent of those businesses reporting that they were unsuccessful in obtaining financing.

According to Jessica, banks would politely take their loan applications, business plan and all other required documents and would review their glowing credit ratings. However, they were denied financing time after time for a retail project that would bring greater visibility to Aqua Elite.

Rather than allow their business to succumb to the cash flow crisis that has America’s small businesses in its grips—the same recession that killed 170,000 other small businesses between 2008 and 2010—the Hueys took another route.

The Hueys visited their credit union and applied for a member business loan (MBL).

“I’ve been with Spokane Teachers Credit Union (STCU) for more than 30 years,” Jessica Huey said. “Our loan officer worked every angle and went above and beyond at every turn to make sure we received the financing that we needed for our project.”

According to Huey, who also financed her home through STCU, the business credit allowed Aqua Elite Pool, Spa and Fireplace to build a new retail storefront in a heavy traffic location where visibility is exceptional.

“Rather than rely on the Yellow Pages for traffic, which no one uses any longer, and other traditional advertising, we have been able to focus on website advertising combined with our new location,” she said. “We could easily have leased a space, considering all of the empty locations, but this location was the right fit.”

At 9321 E. Sprague, the Hueys are now positioned on a corner location in a retail corridor just south of Interstate 90, between Spokane and Spokane Valley, next to several other small businesses providing creature comforts.

“There are no floodgates opening, but things are getting better, and we have actually seen growth over the past year,” Jessica Huey said. “All of this growth—100 percent—I attribute to the combination of being at our new location and changing our advertising plan from print to online.”

Both changes were made possible by the Hueys’ MBL from STCU.

“The credit union has been fabulous to work with. And these guys actually work hard,” Jessica Huey said. “I would definitely go back for financing or another line of credit.”

And she isn’t alone. More and more small-business owners are turning to credit unions for their small business financing. Between June 2011 and June 2012, credit union MBLs increased by 5.1 percent, according to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).

And credit unions want to make more small-business loans. Credit union business lending is currently limited to 12.25 percent of the credit union’s assets, but a bill now making its way through Congress would more than double that cap, increasing it to 27.5 percent of assets.

S.2231, known as the Small Business Enhancement Act, would free up credit unions to make more than $13 billion in new loans, which CUNA estimates would create as many as 140,000 jobs in the first year alone.

More than a boost for credit unions, increased lending capacity would provide a boost to Spokane’s small-business community and businesses like the Hueys’ that are seeking lines of credit to spur economic development and job growth.

Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Call to Action

With a vote expected this month on the credit union MBL bill, the NWCUA has issued the following call to action to all credit union advocates:

  • Please contact your Senators today and urge them to vote yes on S. 2231 when it comes to the floor for a vote. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is a co-sponsor of this bill, so you’ll be prompted to send him a thank-you letter, which is just as important. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley has committed to support the bill when it comes to the floor. Please edit your letter to thank him for his commitment. The Washington Senators are uncommitted at this point, so we need a concerted effort here. Prewritten letters are available for your use at our new Grassroots Action Center. See below for instructions about using this new grassroots tool.
  • Ask your members to send an email or letter. Put the “Call to Action” web sticker on your website asking your members to send an email through the Grassroots Action Center or add to your webpage in another form. The code for this can be found here.
  • Share this video from Bill Cheney with staff and members regarding the importance of this effort.
  • Reach out to small-business members. Every credit union should aim to gather five letters from small-business partners in support of S. 2231.
  • Call your Senators at 877.642.4223 to leave a message asking them to support S. 2231. Once the caller provides a zip code, this number will automatically direct the individual to his or her respective Senate offices. Talking points will be provided upon calling, depending on co-sponsorship. Once individuals are finished leaving a message for their first senator, please encourage them to call back to reach their other senator on the same toll-free number.
  • Earned media coverage. You don’t need a marketing budget for this initiative. 
  • Know your number. CUNA has released new estimates about each credit union’s lending potential if the legislation passes. This is a good media story when you can say how much extra money or how many new jobs your credit union can flow into your community. This data is available for all Oregon and Washington credit unions.
  • “Real people” mean real pick-up in media. Have some of your small-business partners agree to be part of newspaper, radio, TV and blog coverage. Share their contact information in your news releases and phone calls.
  • Ask your small-business owners to write letters to their local newspaper editors and to their Senator. Sample letters can be found here.
  • Use your social media sites to promote the MBL legislation. Include a link to the sample letters. Include links for your Senator.
  • Create no-cost, positive buzz. Post relevant comments on appropriate local blogs such as economic, job sites, small business sites and local activists’ blogs.
  • A sample news release can be found here.

 

Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor: mhalvorson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Around the NW, Community Impact.