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Bank of America, N.A. has added a number of new small business bankers to its North Bay staff, part of a national push to bolster services and relationships with small business clients.

Three new bankers have joined the bank in the North Bay, part of 31 Bay Area hires and a plan to add over 1,000 small business bankers nationally.

While Bank of America already serves small businesses in the region – including lending backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration – the new bankers will focus on a hands-on approach for those clients, said Desi Stark, senior vice president and small business banking manager for the North Bay and San Francisco.

“The idea of adding a small business banker to the area is to have expertise out in the community, not just at our banking centers,” she said. “Bank of America’s small business bankers go to the place of business to meet with the small business owner, meet their staff and see their operation.”

[caption id="attachment_56983" align="alignleft" width="202" caption="Angelica Nuñez"][/caption]

In Santa Rosa, Angelica Nuñez now serves as vice president and small business banker. A Sonoma County resident, Ms. Nuñez assumed her new role after four years with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Allan Christensen will occupy a similar role in Napa County, and Jennifer Collins in Marin.***

Testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee last month, Redwood Credit Union President and CEO Brett Martinez said that statutory limits on business lending for credit unions were limiting those institutions’ ability to meet a current surge in demand and suppressing growth in lending backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Speaking on behalf of the Credit Union National Association, Mr. Martinez told the Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations for the Committee on Small Business that recent demand for business loans has pushed many credit unions closer to their regulatory limit for total loans, forcing some to sell loans on the secondary market to remain under the cap.

“Redwood Credit Union is one of these credit unions; we are at over 75 percent of our capacity, which means we will probably only be able to continue to lend to business members for the next 18 months,” said Mr. Martinez, in his written testimony. “From our perspective, a natural way to increase access to capital for small businesses would be to increase the statutory cap on credit union business lending.”

Traditional business financing is currently limited to 12.25 percent of assets for credit unions. Mr. Martinez supported proposed legislation, H.R. 1418, to increase that limit to 27.5 percent, arguing that the increase would inspire more robust business lending for credit unions, including through the SBA.

Business lending has increased markedly for credit unions through the recession. In his testimony, Mr. Martinez said that credit unions experienced a 57 percent increase in business loans during the economic crisis, along with an 89 percent in SBA lending for business that may not qualify for other financing.

Recently, a significant amount of that demand has been for the administration’s temporary 504 refinance program, a loan structure that allows a significant fixed-rate debenture backed by the federal government and allowing up to 90 percent refinancing of property. Mr. Martinez argued that Congress should choose to renew the program, which is set to expire in September.

“Lower commercial real estate values are one of the few upsides for many small businesses today. Add historically low interest rates to that and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has presented itself for business people to acquire commercial real estate,” he said, adding that the 504 refinance program was “an example of the right product at the right time.”

Redwood Credit Union, which holds $2 billion in assets, is the largest SBA lender among credit unions in the United States by volume in fiscal year 2012, according to Mr. Martinez. While institutions of that size have the resources to coordinate the greater complexity of an SBA loan, Mr. Martinez argued that further streamlining of the process would encourage smaller institutions to facilitate the government-backed financing.***

The Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, which provides financing to assist other institutions in home lending, has granted $15,000 to Habitat for Humanity, Sonoma County. The grant will help support the group’s Revitalization Program, which rehabilitates bank-owned properties for resale to low-income families.

The gift was part of $16.5 million granted to programs throughout California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Illinois in the first round of the bank’s 2012 funding competition. Through its Affordable Housing Program, the bank distributes 10 percent of its income to affordable housing projects....

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