On March 6, 2019, a snowy, below-freezing day, excited staff and supporters huddled in front of Arbor Financial Credit Union’s newest location. The icy pavement didn’t stop the attendees from posing for a celebratory photo with their proud teammates. It was the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the bank’s eighth location, on Portage Road on the south side of Portage.
“We are owned by the people in the community that we serve,” said Tammy Phelps, vice president of operations at Arbor Financial. “The philosophy of credit unions is people helping people. And our purpose here at Arbor is to help our members grow and achieve their dreams through innovative financial solutions. We are very excited about our growth and for what our future brings—to be able to do that for our members it does give us great pride and gives us great joy.”
Small business is big for the U.S. economy. A 2010 study from Michigan State University said small businesses employ more than 52 percent of the nation’s employees, and it estimated that for every $100 consumers spend with locally owned businesses, $73 stays in the local economy.
“Many people realize the value that locally owned—and maybe smaller—businesses bring to our community,” Phelps said. “It gives you a sense of ownership, a sense of pride, a sense of trust and loyalty that really is unique in the smaller business market.”
Since the opening of its Portage Road location in March, Arbor Financial has opened another new branch in Portage on Westnedge Avenue. Later in 2019, the credit union plans to open two more branches in Grand Rapids.
The efforts of economic development groupSouthwest Michigan First support the growth of local businesses like Arbor Financial Credit Union. The organization works closely with businesses, helping them build networks, answer tough questions, and stay on top of industry trends.
“Small businesses are extremely important to our community,” said Kim Weishaar, chief financial officer of Southwest Michigan First. “They are the ones who are bringing new, fresh ideas into our community, and a business that may start as one or two people can end up growing into a 300-person company.”
Southwest Michigan First is known for partnering with large businesses—such as Stryker and Pfizer—but its Chamber division focuses on the small business community.
“We want to make sure our small business community is taken care of as well,” Weishaar said, pointing to the networking events called Chamber Connects as well as training opportunities for small businesses, which involve topics such as social media, digital trends, and cybersecurity.
Weishaar said the Connect events are great opportunities for bringing small business owners together.
“In a region where there are so many great things happening and so many different industries and organizations, it gives them a chance to come together and learn about one another,” Weishaar said. “It could be helping them find a supplier right here in Southwest Michigan that they may not have known about before. [The events] provide opportunities to network, learn, and further yourself at a minimal cost.”
Southwest Michigan First has a jobs-focused mission. Weishaar said one of the organization’s greatest beliefs is that “the greatest force for change is a job.” She added that helping companies create more jobs is a big part of that. When it comes to small companies, there are some unique challenges.
“We are a source of information for them,” Weishaar said. “They may not know the answer right away, so we can help them find that answer. As a resource for the small business community, we hope that they feel that they can reach out to us—whether that be through one of our formalized events such as Connects or Lunch and Learns,or if it’s just calling our front desk and saying, ‘Hey, where can I go to get a loan? Where can I go to learn more about insurance?’ We are there to answer those questions for them.”
Phelps of Arbor Financial Credit Union said that Southwest Michigan First’s efforts are a big help—and that they help small business help each other.
“Organizations like [Southwest Michigan First] bring us together, give us ideas, help us brainstorm growth opportunities, and educate us to support one another.”
She added: “It is so important to embrace the local community’s small businesses. We need to be here for each other.”