PhillyDeals: Agency ready to help with small-business loans

Mayor Nutter and Niki Leondakis , Kimpton Hotels' president and chief operating officer, at a groundbreaking at the Lafayette Building.
Mayor Nutter and Niki Leondakis , Kimpton Hotels' president and chief operating officer, at a groundbreaking at the Lafayette Building. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 05, 2012

Reading in this space how small businesses are still having a tough time borrowing money, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.'s Sam Rhoads called to remind me his agency, a joint venture of the city and its chamber of commerce, is here to help.

PIDC is best known for managing the city's aging industrial sites. Rhoads notes it's also a cut-rate lender that recycles government funds to city businesses and nonprofits, lending where banks may fear to go.

PIDC and its affiliates raised $183 million for 58 companies and nonprofit developers last year. Borrowers claimed the money added or preserved more than 2,000 jobs, though such claims are hard to prove.

Rhoads reports a long-term credit-loss rate of just 3 percent, though he notes the agency is sometimes more patient with late payers than federally

regulated banks tend to be.

Among PIDC's financings last year:

$104 million in tax-exempt bonds for construction by public charter-school operators West Philadelphia Achievement Charters and Aspira Inc. and expansion of the Wistar Institute and other projects.

$50 million in cut-rate project financing for the new Kimpton Hotel in Center City's Lafayette Building, plus millions more for smaller projects, including $2 million to keep Tasty Baking's South Philly plant afloat before its purchase by Flowers Foods of Georgia.

A total of $8.5 million in small-business loans to Northeast Philly auto dealers DeSimone Motor Vehicles Inc., Center City high-end restaurateur Jose Garces, Finnish recycler Kuusakoski Philadelphia L.L.C., Reading Terminal Market Corp., the River City Flats development, Easter-egg maker Zitner Candy Corp., and 20 others, plus $1.7 million to 14 "emerging" building contractors and other service companies.

$700,000 in loan guarantees to Islamic undertakers Khadijah Alderman Funeral Services Inc. and other businesses, with help from three small city banks - Valley Green, East River, and United.

Don't rival businesses complain about this taxpayer-financed competition? No, says Rhoads; most city hotels, supermarkets, and charter schools are taxpayer-financed.

What does it say about our federally regulated banking system that local government has to step in? Rhoads said he's happy to work alongside banks helping finance job-rich projects that might otherwise get turned down.

Old tech

Visa and MasterCard fraud has gotten so bad, I had to tell my bank in advance when I was heading to New York and London on assignment, so they wouldn't panic at my unfamiliar spending pattern and cut access to my money.

That's a price of convenience - in America. But when I visited Commerce Bank founder Vernon Hill's new Metro Bank P.L.C., his English bankers told me they don't have a big fraud problem - because they use cards armed with tough-to-fake computer chips, not 60-year-old U.S.-style card strips.

The strip was cool, in its day. As Janney Capital Markets payment analyst Len DeProspo told me, the familiar card was invented in 1960 by an IBM developer on a federal government project. His wife suggested attaching the metal code panel to a plastic card with a clothing iron, so its data could be read through a metal plate wired to a landline phone.

But strips today are as dated as the internal-combustion engine or old Microsoft Windows.

"Since 1960, we have sent men to the moon, and created the Internet, yet we are still using technology that puts our entire financial lives, and identities, at risk every time we use a payment card," DeProspo told me.

It would cost an estimated $8 billion-plus to replace strip-readers with chip-readers at U.S. merchants. "There was an estimated $3.5 billion in fraud in 2009, so, theoretically, updating the system to chip plus PIN would pay for itself" in a few years, DeProspo noted.

But nobody wants to pay for that.

"Since Europe has more secure cards, fraudsters are now focusing their attention in the U.S.," DeProspo said. When Europeans come here, they have to get strip cards. Like old-time tourists in open-air colonial markets, shopping here, they "enter the fraud zone, where the risk of theft is much greater," DeProspo said.


Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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