Find your niche and own it

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Over the past few years, all of us in the industry have done a lot of pivoting, professionally and personally (in some cases it was more like pirouettes – the ballet term for a series of 360 degree spins performed while balancing on the toes of the body). ‘a foot).

For me personally, I’m living a much quieter life than I imagined in 2019, which would have included lots of travel, in-person networking, and visiting at least one new country every year. But instead of dwelling on what could have been, I tried to focus on the things I was able to do that wouldn’t have been possible had I led a more eventful and active life. . I’ve become a much better cook than ever, read 85 books in the past two years, and become obsessed with something that started out as a pandemic hobby: full-coverage counted cross stitch. For those of you who don’t know (which is probably all of you), this involves taking between 50 and 200 different colors of yarn, and a large piece of fabric covered in small holes created by the gaps between the woven fabrics. fibers. The holes form a grid of tiny squares—sometimes close to 1,000 per square inch, depending on the tightness of the fabric weave—and, following a paper or electronic chart where each thread color is represented by a different symbol, the stitcher fills the squares of the fabric. with thousands of hand-sewn little x’s. You can find cross stitch charts online that can replicate almost any photo or artwork with thread as a backing, and the end result can be worthy of an art exhibit.

Does spending several hours a day at this hobby make me feel a little more nerdy than I’d like, and like I’m not just a homebody, but heading can to be towards a reclusive territory? Yeah, a little, but I don’t care – it’s my thing now and I own it.

One credit union that is living a different life than its leaders originally intended is the Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union ($2.7 million, Unity, Maine). One of the 2019 de novo credit unions, Maine Harvest opened after six years of fundraising and other groundwork to serve a niche membership of Maine smallholder farmers and other food producers with local distribution models and sustainable agricultural techniques. Last month, the credit union announced it was merging with the $375 million Five County Credit Union, based in Bath, Maine – a decision taken after the pandemic-induced economic crisis of 2020 resulted in a reduction in the amount of the credit union’s investment income, on which he relied in part. Following the merger, which is still subject to member and regulator approval, Maine Harvest will become a department of Five County, continuing its specialty of providing agricultural loans to local small farmers and food producers.

Merging with another organization just a few years after opening may not be the ideal outcome for a new business, but Maine Harvest executives have acknowledged that the merger is happening due to economic conditions beyond their control. (“We are not receiving awards at this time,” Maine Harvest President and CEO Scott Budde said when CU time first report on the merger). And, instead of dwelling on what the credit union might have looked like if it had been able to continue operating and growing on its own, its leaders are grateful for the opportunity to do things that they could only do that by being part of a bigger institution. As a division of Five County, the former Maine Harvest will be able to issue larger loans and introduce new products and services such as lines of credit, business checking accounts and online banking. personal and professional line.

“One of the things we are looking forward to with the merger is that it will allow us to focus on our lending rather than the day-to-day running of a credit union, which is difficult for a small credit union” , Budde said in a later interview.

Maine Harvest entered the merger process with a loan portfolio of $1 million and 78 members; after the merger, it will have the option to increase loan sizes from its previous cap of $225,000 to between $500,000 and $1 million, Budde said. And Five County’s management is excited about its upcoming foray into agricultural lending and the positive impact it will have on the local community and economy.

“We are very excited to be working with everyone at Maine Harvest to continue our mission to serve local small farms and food businesses,” said Julie A. Marquis, President and CEO of Five County. “I think all communities, businesses, members and families have been impacted by economic developments and stressors, and we just want to be here to help.

The leaders of the soon to be merged credit union also own their individuality and the fact that they are committed to serving a market that is untouched by the majority of credit unions. According to a CU time analysis, last year agricultural loans from credit unions accounted for just 2% of the $37.1 billion in total commercial real estate loans produced in 2021, and just 10 credit unions were responsible for 59% of the 635.4 million dollars of agricultural loan production from the movement last year. The American agricultural industry obtains its financing primarily through the Farm Credit System, a program of the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as large banks (fun fact: just as banks have long attacked credit unions for tax-exempt status, they have also been at war with agricultural credit, arguing that the system has taken advantage of its status as a government-sponsored enterprise to unfairly compete with banks for agricultural loans). This environment has left few opportunities for credit unions to enter the agricultural banking space, but perhaps more importantly, lending to large agricultural enterprises is too much of a risk for most credit unions due to factors such as the fluctuating value of food products, as Budde explained.

However, by exclusively targeting small, locally-focused but diverse farmers and food businesses, to whom loans are more feasible for a small institution, Maine Harvest – soon to become Five County – has found a unique niche that, as mentioned Marquis, is also helping support a community that has felt the effects of inflation and is in need of financial services.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do this type of loan,” Budde said, adding, “If you’re a small farm in a place like Maine, you don’t have as many financing options as if you were a giant farm in the Midwest or even just a small business, so I think they really appreciate having a financial institution that wants to work with them, values ​​what they do, and understands their needs.

There are two morals to this story: first, whether you want to call it opening a window when a door closes, seeing the glass half full, or looking for the silver lining of the cloud, things don’t always go so badly. when life pushes you. in an unexpected direction. Second, replicating what your peers are doing is never a good strategy. Find your niche and perfect it, whether it’s immersing yourself in a quirky hobby or providing a service needed by a niche market. The result could be forms of internal growth and external impact that you never imagined before, but also could not imagine life without now.

Natasha Chilingerian

Natasha Chilingerian is the editor of CU Times. She can be reached at [email protected]

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