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Credit union booms in NE.

Assets Increase $9.5 Million in 18 Months

WHEN PEOPLE AT THE Blytheville Credit Union heard rumors in the early 1980s that Eaker Air Force Base might close, they started intensive preparations.

The preparations have been so successful that the credit union, now known as Northeast Arkansas Credit Union, has grown significantly even though it lost many members and deposits when the base finally closed last year.

Northeast Arkansas Credit Union, based in Gosnell with offices in Blytheville and Jonesboro, recorded an increase of $9.5 million, almost 29 percent, in assets from December 1991 to June 1993. It is now the fifth largest credit union in Arkansas with more than $42.6 million in assets.

Arkansas Federal Credit Union, based in Jacksonville, again is the state's largest credit union in Arkansas Business' annual ranking. With just under 40,000 members, it has assets of almost $150 million, which is almost 2.5 times the assets of No. 2 Crossett Paper Mills Credit Union.

Information for the list was provided by Callahan and Associates of Washington D.C.

When rumors about the closing of Eaker Air Force Base intensified in 1987 and 1988, Chief Executive Officer Ron Thomas says, Northeast Arkansas Credit Union stepped up its plans for diversification.

Much of its growth comes from Nucor Steel employees. Because of Nucor's presence in Mississippi County, several satellite companies have moved into Northeast Arkansas. The credit union included those companies in its membership, Thomas says.

But the credit union's growth doesn't end there.

It has also opened membership to Arkansas State University employees, city employees in Jonesboro and Blytheville School District employees. In addition, it merged with three smaller credit unions with total assets of about $1 million.

In all, the credit union has about 50 separate employee groups, Thomas says.

"Northeast Arkansas has done a terrific job of positioning themselves to provide member services," says Don Deems, president of the Arkansas Credit Union League.

Thomas says possibly 75 percent of Blytheville's residents also qualify as members. Northeast Arkansas Credit Union, he says, allows relatives of employees of its member companies to join.

"To be quite honest, we did too good a job," says Thomas, who has been with the credit union for 12 years. "We got more business than we could actually handle for a while. If the base had stayed, I don't know what we would have done."

The credit union has no immediate plans to expand significantly, Thomas says, because some longtime members are concerned that it's growing too fast.

95 Credit Unions in Arkansas

Dillard's Credit Union saw an increase of $6.3 million in assets in 18 months. That was a growth of 65 percent to $15.9 million. Much of that growth comes from the department store chains that Dillard Department Stores Inc. has acquired, Deems says.

Arkansas has 95 credit unions, Deems says, and most represent a single occupational group or several occupational groups.

Credit unions tend to be more service oriented than bottom-line oriented because they have no stockholders to please, Deems says. The primary objective of a credit union is for people to pool their resources so loans can be made to the members, he says.

"Most of them operate as close to the bone as possible so that the money they make can be turned back into benefits for the membership," Deems says.

Most credit unions own their own modest buildings. Fixed assets are limited to 5 percent of the total assets.

"They don't invest in real estate or build buildings," Deems says. "If a credit union builds a building, they have to show that they will use it themselves within five years. They can't build an office 10 times the size they need and then rent it out."
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Title Annotation:northeast Arkansas
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Sep 13, 1993
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