Lenders See Economy In Positive Light

July 17, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — In a competitive economy for commercial lending, area banks are seeing different sides of the market.

Richard Haslinger, president of Chase's West Michigan market, said Chase has seen the number of commercial loans rise 10 percent in the past year, in a broad range of industries. That growth can be attributed to customers investing in equipment and being involved in international business, from sales to manufacturing and investing.

"I think we may be growing more than the entire market," he said.

Haslinger said the difference is Chase's international work, with a presence in 51 countries.

Chase is also expanding its presence in the state, with 34 new branches — 11 of them in West Michigan — including a new branch that opened last Tuesday in East Grand Rapids

West Michigan is a good market; it's a little more diversified," he said.

Art Johnson, president and CEO of United Bank of Michigan, is seeing a different picture of the market in the state.

"We are in a situation where there is not a lot of economic growth happening in the Michigan economy," he said. "A lot of businesses are hunkered down in survivor mode."

Johnson said commercial lending has been competitive in price, terms of the loans, and in other aspects, as well.

After 30 years of banking in West Michigan, Johnson said he has seen recessions and slow economies before, but while most of the country is doing better economically, Michigan still seems like it is in a recession.

"It looks and sounds and acts an awful lot like (a recession) for someone whose business is here in Michigan," he said.

Despite the slow economy, Johnson said there is always a positive side.

"For those businesses that are willing to go and try something new, and do have some capital of their own to expend, it's actually a good time for them to try and do that," he said.

As the market is competitive, banks are competing for customers, which Johnson said is good for those hoping to borrow.

"The banking industry in western Michigan is really very healthy and vibrant," he said. "That's good news for when the economy starts to turn."

Jose Infante, senior vice president of Independent Bank West Michigan, said he is seeing more loans in the lower $250,000 to $5 million range, which he partially attributes to optimism.

"There are people who believe in the market, or they wouldn't be putting up these buildings," he said. "Despite the naysayers, I think the people that are spending the money are more confident."

Infante said Independent has seen a rise in commercial loans over the past year and that people he's spoken to are feeling a lot better about the economy than they were two years ago.

"I think they feel the economy is stronger," he said. "Now what they're doing is they've seen the market last longer, the uptrend last longer, so they feel that the economy is for real. There's just more optimism and that is translating into people committing themselves to expansion."

Infante said he does not see an end to the optimism in sight.

"This is the opportunity for both businesses and the financial institutions to keep expanding."    

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