Northern Initiatives using common sense in lending

One of the Marquette business community’s top leaders made some valid points last week during an address to the Operation Action U.P.’s annual get together in Marquette.

Dennis West, who is president of Northern Initiatives of Marquette, served as keynote speaker for the gathering, the theme of which was “Celebrating 906 — more than just an area code.”

Northern Initiatives, a private, not-for-profit community-development financial institution, has provided loans to about 1,000 recipients totaling more than $1.8 million. OAUP is a privately funded economic development organization that’s been in business since 1963.

NI, said West, can offer loans to small business owners, community organizations and entrepreneurs who may not qualify for a loan from a bank. Among the businesses it has assisted is LifeFit BrainFit of Kingsford.

His focus, and the focus of the professionals at NI, has always been to assess the character of the individual requesting a loan and hear the “story behind the story” to determine if a loan should be provided, rather than relying solely upon credit, collateral and other financial metrics.

“Always bet on character,” West said in a Mining Journal story on the matter. “Our focus has always (been) … to incorporate someone’s character into how we think about an approach. Our philosophy is not to focus on the idea, it’s to focus on the entrepreneur and to always make sure that in thinking about the entrepreneur, that really what we’re assessing is character and a belief that they’re going to push forward and pull something off, regardless of what it looks like.”

We find West’s take to be refreshingly positive and forward leaning. So often, it seems these days, financial dealings are reduced to spreadsheets with numbers while the quality of the idea — and the person behind it — takes a back seat. While we don’t necessarily advocate throwing out the spreadsheets entirely, layering in some of what West does at NI might make sense for the lenders that currently aren’t.