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Springfield, MO

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Photo provided by ANNETTE DARNELL
Photo provided by ANNETTE DARNELL

A Conversation With ... Annette Darnell

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What is RMI?
RMI is a certified development company, (authorized) by the U.S. Small Business Administration to package, close and service SBA 504 loans. Our main office is in Jefferson City. It’s a very specific loan program through the SBA, and 504 finances fixed assets – land, buildings and equipment. We participate with local lenders, with local lenders providing 50 percent of the project cost. We provide 40 percent, and the borrower is required to inject 10 percent. Our average project cost is probably $850,000 to $1.2 million, so it’s not an inventory or working capital program. It’s truly a fixed-asset program. (We are) an option (for) low down payments, and our loans (have) interest rates fixed for 20 years.

What is your coverage territory?
I cover 25 counties in southwest Missouri and some territory in Kansas. We’re responsible for marketing, and also underwriting and packaging the applications, and receiving SBA approval. The 504 is a very specific program, and it’s not necessarily easy to (understand) all the rules and regulations, so we work hard to try to market to the lenders in the area, (and) Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Realtors, so they understand the program.

Do would-be borrowers contact you directly?
Most of the time, the borrower is going to work through their lender, and then through us.  But they can contact us directly to make sure that they’re eligible and a fit for our program, and we’ll work with them (through) their bank or help them find a bank to participate. … I know a borrower may not just walk into a bank and say, “I want a 504 loan,” so our mission is to make sure our lenders are comfortable and realize that we’re a good source of capital and make the process as easy as possible for both the borrower and the lender.

How would you characterize the lending landscape for small-business borrowers?
Financial institutions and RMI are optimistic about the future, and we are open to financing projects.

I think the borrowing community is cautious right now, so although we’re optimistic, I think we all are moving kind of in a careful mode. But I do believe lenders are ready to loan money.

What hurdles do potential borrowers face when talking to lenders?
The biggest hurdle is being able to explain in detail what you’re looking for, what you’re wanting to borrow money for (and) being able to show that you have funds to put into the project. Basically, explaining the business plan for how they’ll repay the loan. I always encourage people, when they go in cold to a bank, to have their tax returns – personal and business, if they’re already in business – their personal financial statements and a detailed explanation of how much they want to borrow and what those funds will be used for. Those items will get them a long way into the discussion.

Has the 504 loan program benefited from federal support for small businesses, and if so, do you think more support is needed?
We did receive some stimulus funds (to) offset some of the fees that are charged for the program. It was relief for a bank fee and a reduction in fees for the borrowers. I think SBA and our program have sufficient funding. We’ve not ever really strayed from the mission even during the slow economy, and I think probably, I think we’re poised with existing program to be able to meet financing needs.

Have you ever thought of becoming a small-business owner?
Actually, I am kind of a small-business owner. I’m a contractor with RMI, so I run my business that way. My husband has been a small-business owner for 30 years. He’s a Pizza Hut franchisee. So I’m aware of the issues and looking at the bottom line.
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