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Curse of The Fastest Growing

Inc. 5000, Entrepreneur Hot 500

August 27, 2007

By COCO SALAZAR and SAM GARCIA


Frequently inscribed on the epitaphs of failed mortgage lenders is the phrase, "was among the fastest growing." Two magazines have released their latest ranking of the "fastest growing" companies -- including dozens that are mortgage-related.

Twin Capital Mortgage ranked No. 40 on the 2007 Inc. magazine ranking of the 5,000 fastest growing privately-held U.S. companies with $8.4 million in revenue and 2,578 percent growth. With 120 employees, the San Francisco-based company reportedly exited subprime originations in 2006 in favor of borrowers with better credit.

"New loan officers go through an intense 12-month training program, which starts off with three months of technical training related to structuring loans and pricing deals," Inc. reported of Twin Capital.

Inc.'s latest ranking compared growth from 2003 to 2006.

Mortgage Research Center was No. 96 on Inc.'s ranking, with 72 employees generating $10.2 million in revenue. Growth was 1,555 percent for the company, based in Columbia, Mo., and founded in 2002.

Inc. said Mortgage Research Center's proprietary software and personal assistants for top producers are responsible for the growth.

Commercial mortgage company Mercantile Commercial Capital ranked 245 on Inc.'s 2007 list because of its success with an increasingly popular 504 loan from the Small Business Administration. With 15 employees, the Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based company generated $4.3 million in revenue with 951 percent growth.

By spending more on traditional advertising, Synergy Direct Mortgage pushed its revenues up 809 percent to $6.7 million and landed the No. 334 spot on Inc.'s ranking. LoanToolbox was No. 428, with 671 percent growth, while Florida Home Equity, with 3- to 4-week closing times, came in at No. 460 with 635 percent growth.

But for many firms, landing on the popular list of movers and shakers has not been enough to avoid falling victim to the mortgage crisis of 2007.

First Magnus Financial Corp., which was recognized by Inc. in 2004 as one of the 500 fastest growing privately held companies, collapsed earlier this month. FMF Capital LLC was ranked among the top 400 fastest-growing private companies in the 24th annual Inc. 500, which reflected growth from 2001 to 2004. FMF announced five months ago it would wind down operations.

Silver State Mortgage, which ranked by Inc. as one of 300 fastest growing private companies in 2005, shut down early this year. SouthStar Funding LLC made the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies also in 2005 and collapsed in four months ago. Homefield Financial, which made the Inc. 500 for the second time in 2005, gave up on its wholesale business in April 2007.

Ameritrust Mortgage Company LLC, a subprime wholesaler that was No. 416 on the 2006 Inc. 500, ran out of funding in April of this year.

The Lending Group Inc. reported 300 percent growth -- landing it on the Business Journal's No. 5 spot of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in North Florida in 2005, went out of business three months ago.

Entrepreneur Magazine released its 2007 Hot 500 -- chosen out of 95,000 businesses that met initial criteria to be considered for the ranking, including being founded between 1998 to 2002 and having positive growth, certain sales and sales growth. From there, the final list included only the companies with largest job growth over a four-year period ending in 2006, sales for 2006 of at least $1 million and a founder who was actively involved in the company, which could not be a spinoff or division of a larger company.

The Business Bank of St. Louis placed 37th on the ranking. Sales of $1.6 million in the year of inception jumped to $32.7 million last year and its employee count went up to 64.

At No. 64, PrimeTrust Bank last year generated $47.7 million in sales and employed 112 individuals, with 26 more expected to be hired through the remaining months of this year.

Statewide Bancorp landed spot No. 70. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based company profited its first year in business, with over $900,000 in sales, and made its first million the following year. Last year's sales were $18.4 million and staff numbered 106, which is expected to increase by 14 by 2008.

Two other mortgage-providing companies within the top 200 were Ocala, Fla.-based American Reverse Mortgage Corp. in spot No. 120. and Dallas, Texas-based Benchmark Mortgage at No. 139. American Reverse was founded in late 2000, it generated $8.4 million in sales last year, and its staff of 2418 is projected to grow by 582 employees by 2008. Meanwhile, 8-year-old Benchmark achieved sales of $51.1 million last year and staff of 1,100 -- which is anticipated to grow by 400.

The Loan Corp., at No. 205 on Entrepreneur's list, was the only sole mortgage company in the next round of 100 fastest-growing companies.The Tampa, Fla.-based lender and broker, with $18.8 million in 2006 sales and a staff expected to grow by 41 employees to 276 by yearend, was followed by banks, First Muskogee Financial, at No. 208, Leaders Bank, Southcoast Financial Corp., and American Community Bank & Trust at No. 273.

Wright Smith Co. Inc. placed 312th. The 8-year-old, Wilmington, N.C.-based mortgage broker only has three employees, without plans to add anymore, and achieved $2.5 million in sales last year. Other mortgage players within the 400 fastest-growing companies were broker Kemper Mortgage Inc., Bank of Keashon, and mortgage banker RNC Financial Network at No. 372.

At No. 470 was broker First Equity Mortgage, which says its sales have tripled from its 2002 inception year to $3.2 million in 2006 and that it employs over 40 individuals throughout nine locations to fund loans through a network of almost 100 lenders. Others in the last fifth of the ranking were commercial real estate finance company Commercial Realty Consultants Inc., First Internet Bank of Indiana and mortgage company First American Funding Co. at No. 481.

The fastest-growing, mortgage-related entity on the Hot 500 was Centra Bank. Founded by Douglas J. Leech in 1999 with $10 million and 14 employees, the community banker turned its first profit and million in 2002, when it achieved sales of $3.6 million. The Morgantown, W.V.-based company grew sales to $53.8 million and employees to 250 last year, with 22 more employees expected to be added by 2008.

"We hire the best people who have a sense of urgency and excitement," Centra Bank was quoted as saying by the magazine. "We answer the telephone! No voice mail. No automated routing of calls! We treat our customers like guests, not like an inconvenience."

The Mortgage Graveyard
Failed, closed and a c q u i r e d mortgage-related entities.



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