News Column

North Kingstown company wants to pay off $4-million state guaranteed loan years early

September 4, 2014

By Kate Bramson, The Providence Journal, R.I.



Sept. 04--PROVIDENCE -- A North Kingstown company is asking the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and a California bank to modify the terms of an agreement reached in 2011 by the three entities under which the state guaranteed a $4-million loan from Bridge Bank to the company, The Corporate Marketplace.

Company founder and chairman Chris Crawford said the firm hopes to pay the loan off early, within a year as opposed to its payback date of 2019, while the company "aggressively" seeks equity investors willing to put $5 million to $10 million into the company to help propel its growth.

Crawford declined to delve into the specifics of the loan modifications he's seeking, noting that the loan documents are "extraordinarily complicated" and that many parties must reach agreement, including the bank, the state, the company and potential venture-capital investors, as well as attorneys working for each entity.

However, the Commerce Corporation's board of directors, chaired by Governor Chafee, met behind closed doors in a special meeting Wednesday that lasted nearly two hours. Executives from the company and Bridge Bank sat in a separate conference room for much of that time but went in and out of the meeting to answer questions.

Commerce Corporation officials and Chafee declined to talk about what was discussed during Wednesday's meeting, and the Commerce board voted to seal the minutes of the closed-door session. Chafee left the meeting after an hour and 40 minutes, saying only, "I don't have anything to say."

Commerce Executive Director Marcel Valois, who stayed for the entire meeting, said afterward through Commerce spokeswoman Melissa Czerwein, "We'll continue to work with the company."

In an interview after the meeting, Crawford provided insight into what the state is considering as the parties weigh altering the terms of the loan agreement.

"I think that they want to make sure the jobs are going to stay here in Rhode Island, that the company's going to stay here in Rhode Island," Crawford said. "All of those kinds of things are critical to them, so they'd like to have all that as part of any solution that's Scotch-taped together."

His company is one of three firms that received loan guarantees from the state agency that provided Curt Schilling's now-bankrupt 38 Studios a controversial $75-million loan guarantee. Those loans were granted after half the money set aside for the program went to the former Red Sox pitcher's company. The General Assembly ended the program last year, before any more loan guarantees were granted.

Crawford said his company "absolutely" intends to stay here.

The Corporate Marketplace is a technology company that helps other companies reward their employees with merchandise. For example, if one of its client companies -- which include Citibank, Mercedes Benz, Verizon and AstraZeneca -- wants to reward employees for meeting certain targets, The Corporate Marketplace allows them to choose products from 240 companies, including Alex and Ani and other Rhode Island-made products.

"We have found that the state is a great partner, and they are willing to make any and all accommodations to allow us to be successful as we are confident [we will] be," Crawford said.

Although the original loan agreement would have allowed The Corporate Marketplace to borrow $4 million, Crawford said his firm never asked for all the money. The company had borrowed $3.75 million as of May 2013, Czerwein said.

The company was required to begin making monthly payments within the last year to pay back the principal and interest owed on the loan, and it has not missed any of those payments, Crawford said. That monthly payment is $62,500, Czerwein said.

Those payments have whittled down what the company owes to $3.25 million, Crawford said. Plus, the company has set aside $1 million in an escrow account to be used to pay back the loan, he said.

Crawford said the company has launched two new software products that have shown promising results, and it wants more venture capital to help push that growth forward as quickly as possible. The company wants to "continue to grow like a demon," he said.

Because of that, the company wants to pay off its obligations under the state loan guarantee, he said, because its monthly payments are "a lot of money."

"You've got to pay your debts down," he said. "I've always been someone who believed that."

A year from now, he expects the company will be "very profitable."

"We are not a 38 Studios," he said. "We've been in business 15 years, we ship at least $3 million in orders a year [that are] going to Rhode Island manufacturers."

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(c)2014 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

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Source: Providence Journal (RI)


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