SANTA ROSA – Redwood Credit Union is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary in January and its place as No. 1 Small Business Administration lender in the North Bay.

In the last year, RCU has created a Small Business Administration loan department and surpassed the rest of the SBA lenders in the North Bay in both number of loans and dollar amount.

This year ending Sept. 30, it processed $8.3 million in SBA 7a loans, roughly double the amount last year's top SBA lender made and roughly $3 million more than the number two institution did this year.

Michael Downey, vice president of business services, said RCU got into the SBA market the same way it has always moved into different areas.

“All the services we provide are essentially driven by requests from members,” he said.

RCU opened its business services department in 2004, and as the program grew, the addition of SBA loans seemed like a nice fit.

“We have done a lot of marketing with the SBA,” Mr. Downey said, “and have benefited from word of mouth."

He said the loans go to a combination of current members and people who come to RCU for the SBA program.

Jason Enh was brought on as the senior SBA loan officer.

Mr. Downey said the elimination of fees associated with SBA loans that came with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 certainly helped with the program.

Along with the elimination of fees came a higher percentage guarantee by the SBA.

“The increase from 75 percent to 90 percent gave lenders more confidence,” he said, “but it did not influence our decisions. That was an extra measure of comfort but did not impact our underwriting process.”

As far as the future goes, RCU expects 2010 to have much in the way of opportunity, and the credit union is looking to take advantage of it.

Anne Benjamin, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said RCU is looking closely at the San Francisco market and making determinations on how to best serve it.

“We are currently projecting strong growth for the next year," she said.

The not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperative was established in 1950 as Sonoma County Employees Credit Union to serve the employees of the county of Sonoma.

In 1982, it changed its name to Redwood Credit Union to reflect the growing membership within the Redwood Empire.

RCU is a California state-chartered credit union. All RCU member accounts are insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration.

Today, RCU has grown to nearly $1.8 billion in assets, serves more than 140,000 members and has 15 branch offices in the North Bay and Bay Area.