Russel Gaston is the newly named president and board member of the Ocean State Business Development Authority Inc. The OSBDA was founded in 1981 by Henry “Bud” Violet, who will transition into a marketing role for the organization. The organization helps make fixed-rate loans with small businesses through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program. Gaston, who joined the company in 2015, talks with Providence Business News about taking on the new role, what goals he’s set for himself and the company, and what challenges he’ll face in the future.
PBN: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your professional background?
GASTON: I’ve been in the financial services industry my whole career, providing loans and other products to businesses. Before joining the Ocean State Business Development Authority in 2015, I had increasing levels of responsibility at Textron Financial, BankRI and Coastway Community Bank. My roles had spanned new business development, underwriting and portfolio management. Now at the OSBDA I am responsible for all aspects of providing SBA-504 loans to southeastern New England businesses. I am also on the advisory board at the R.I. Small Business Development Center. Residing in North Kingstown, I’ve been happily married for 18 years, and am now the proud father of three, [and like] to ski when I have the chance.
PBN: What does it mean to you to be named president of OSBDA?
GASTON: Bud Violet has been leading the OSBDA since it was founded in 1981. When I joined the organization in 2015, this was an important component of the succession plan. I was initially named executive vice president, chief operating officer and have focused on streamlining our underwriting processes while becoming the most user-friendly provider of SBA-504 loans in the region. Along with our strong staff, I have been able to dramatically increase our new-loan volume, supporting our local businesses as they grow their business and increase hiring. My recent promotion to president, and appointment to the board of directors, recognizes the progress that we have made.
PBN: What goals have you set for yourself? How about the company?
GASTON: The OSBDA will continue to be a leader in providing 90 percent financing with low rates and terms of up to 25 years. Since I’ve been with the OSBDA, we have been the No. 1 provider of these loans in the Rhode Island market. I believe that this is due to our user-friendly approach, quick turn-around time and local presence. We will continue to increase our market penetration outside of Rhode Island in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut. We will also provide other non-loan advisory services to our local business community.
PBN: How would you describe activity under the 504-loan program now compared to past years, and what does that tell you about the Rhode Island economy?
GASTON: We are experiencing strong loan activity and backlog. This reflects the fact that while Rhode Island was slow to recover from the financial crisis, we are now seeing solid growth and business investment. We will continue to be dependent on both national and international economic factors, but I am encouraged by the strong development of new businesses here in southeastern New England. I’ve been proud to be able to provide financing for a range of small to mid-sized businesses such as Providence Coal Fired Pizza, Isle Brewers Guild and Goodison Shipyard.
PBN: What are the greatest challenges facing certified development companies? Why?
GASTON: Providing financing to businesses is a very competitive business, with numerous potential providers of capital. These can take the form of other CDCs from Massachusetts or Connecticut, but also from banks and other lenders. However, when it comes to providing 90 percent long-term financing at very attractive fixed rates for up to 25 years, the SBA-504 loan program is impossible to match. That, combined with our streamlined approach to underwriting and closing loans, puts us in a very strong position to remain a strong provider of capital to the regional business community.