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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, December 19, 2011, 6:45 am

Banking and finance: Circle Bank to educate Keiretsu-funded startups; 30% solar grant to end

Also: Westamerica to move branch; Sonoma puppeteers film credit union ads

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    Eric Gneckow, Business Journal Staff ReporterNovato-based Circle Bank has partnered with Keiretsu Forum, said to be the world’s largest angel investor network, to provide financing advice to startup and early-stage companies in the North Bay and San Francisco.

    Through the arrangement, Circle Bank becomes the exclusive bank for the North Bay and San Francisco chapters of the forum, according to bank spokesman Gary Tobin. The institution will educate members on ongoing financing beyond that of angel investors, participate in forum events and give presentations as requested. The bank will not participate in approval of Keiretsu investments.

    Kim Kaselionis

    Kim Kaselionis

    “Circle Bank is a perfect partner for Keiretsu Forum in San Francisco and the North Bay,” said Randy Williams, Keiretsu chief executive and founder, in a statement. “We have met extensively with Kim (Kaselionis, Circle Bank CEO and chairwoman) and her staff, and they have a thorough understanding of the banking needs of the entrepreneurs.”

    The partnership adds to the bank’s other initiatives supporting startup and early-stage businesses. That includes the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment loan program, which has funded several entrepreneurs.

    Created in 2000, Keiretsu has 850 accredited investors as members, 21 chapters worldwide and has invested more than $260 million.

    ***

    Adam Capital, a Sonoma-based lender specializing in financing small-scale solar projects, is encouraging solar companies to look into a potential “safe harbor clause” that could extend a 30 percent federal grant on solar projects that is set to expire at the end of this year.

    The lender has used the grant, described in section 1603 of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, as collateral when lending to “rooftop-scale projects” that Adam Capital CEO Adam Boucher said are typically too small-scale to obtain financing from a bank.

    While discussions about the federal grant are ongoing and subject to change, the clause might allow some projects to obtain the grant through 2016 if developers invest a portion of their total project cost by the end of this year.

    Those who are looking to finance projects using the grant in the future could still have time to do so if they act by December 31, Mr. Boucher said. The lender emphasized that some experts and government officials disagreed about how to interpret the complex program and advised developers to seek tax and legal advice to ensure compliance.

    ***

    Westamerica bank is making preparations to move its branch in Ignacio near its current location in the Pacheco Plaza shopping center early next year, said Robert Thorson, the bank’s chief financial officer.

    The move, timed with the lease expiration in February, will allow the shopping center owner to demolish the 30-year-old building and construct a new commercial structure at the site, said Megan Gast, property manager for the center owner, Walter Kieckhefer Company.

    “We are in the process of interviewing architects for the project and are looking at several scenarios that would potentially include another 3000-4000 square-foot bank in addition to between 4,000-6,000 square feet of divisible retail space,” she said.

    The new location, a former bank branch at 300 Ignacio Blvd., is currently undergoing renovations. When complete, it will offer two ATMs, the same hours as the Pacheco Plaza branch and more convenient access from U.S. Highway 101.

    “We’re investing money to upgrade the location and make it a good space for our customers,” Mr. Thorson said.

    The shopping center recently underwent a $7 million overhaul.

    “We are currently  working with Craig Semmelmeyer of Main Street Property Services on the re-tenanting of this new project as well as the remaining vacancy in the rest of the shopping center,” said Ms. Gast.

    ***

    Images in Motion puppets

    Images in Motion's ladybug and turtle puppets for Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union commercials

    Community First Credit Union signed up the greater number of new members in November than in any month in its 50-year history, beating a record set in October.

    The institution added 435 new members, 329 checking accounts and more than $4 million in deposits in November. It was a nearly 100 percent increase in new members versus the previous month, and nearly 250 percent more than the same time last year.

    Todd Sheffield, CEO of Community First, credited the interest generated through National Bank Transfer Day and negative accounts of “big Wall Street banks” for the spike.

    Community First Credit Union has 13,000 members and $125 million in assets, according to the institution.

    ***

    Images in Motion, a Sonoma-based studio specializing in puppets for television, is filming a series of commercials for Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union. In the series, a turtle and ladybug “explain the benefits of credit union services to customers on the Big Island,” according to Lee Armstrong, writer and puppeteer at the studio.

    The credit union found the Images in Motion online and coordinated filming remotely. The studio’s credits include the films “Being John Malkovich” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

    Submit items for this column to Eric Gneckow, eric.gneckow@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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