Local credit union breaks ground on large new branch

Breaking ground for the new location of Downriver Community Federal Credit Union are Paul Colone, project manager, GJ Perelli Co.; Robert La Palme, DCFCU president and chief executive officer; Bonnie Swatski, DCFCU executive vice president; Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa; and Gary Perelli, president, GJ Perelli Co. The ground-breaking occurred June 5.

TOM TIGANI
– Special to the Wyandotte Warrior
 –

A longtime local financial institution is opening its biggest location yet in the heart of the Downriver area.

Downriver Community Federal Credit Union, which began in Ecorse in 1942 as Great Lakes Steelworkers Federal Credit Union, will build its newest location at 15261 Trenton Road, just south of Eureka Road in Southgate. Credit union officials announced plans for the new building earlier this year in conjunction with its 77th anniversary.

“Downriver Community Federal Credit Union has a long history of serving our community, and we are excited to show our continuing commitment to the Downriver region through this new initiative,” said Robert La Palme, DCFCU president and chief executive officer.

The new building marks a homecoming of sorts for La Palme, who grew up in Southgate and began working in the Downriver banking industry in the mail room at the former Security Bank & Trust, which underwent several mergers and now is owned by PNC Bank.

While he’s pleased to be returning to his old home town, La Palme said the mission of the credit union is a lot bigger than his personal journey.

“Our mission is grounded in the idea of people helping people,” he said. “The reason we picked Southgate is that it’s very central to that mission. Our members come from an area that extends from Ecorse and Lincoln Park to the north, west to near Romulus, east to the Detroit River and south all the way to the Monroe County line.

“Geographically speaking, we wanted to be right in the middle. So we bought that location and began the process of building a branch. It will help us fulfill our mission to reach people from all walks of life and help them achieve their financial goals.”

The credit union took on its current name in 1982, opened an office in Woodhaven in 2003, merged with Detroit Marathon Employees Federal Credit Union in 2004, merged with Wyandotte Community Federal Credit Union in 2008 and now counts $165 million in assets and 15,000 members.

There are currently offices in Ecorse, Lincoln Park, Wyandotte and Woodhaven.

“As our membership continues to grow, having a centrally located office will allow us to serve our members more effectively, with greater access to the financial services we provide,” La Palme said.

The new two-story building will contain almost 12,000 square feet of office space. In addition to retail and operations areas, the design plans include a large community-use space that credit union officials believe will allow them to share and further develop their vision for a better Downriver community.

That vision includes the workshops that DCFCU has offered for the last 12 years on the third Wednesday of every month to members and nonmembers. The workshops deal with topics like sales, marketing, personal development and social media.

“We cover everything that has something to do with growing a business. You could be an owner, a multi-level marketer or any other employee who has a role of growing the business they’re in, La Palme said. “Our groups are not typically what most financial institutions are angling to catch. They may remember us, or they may not, but we want to do what they can to help them grow.”

The community room will be a key part of the new building; it will be used to host workshops, which are free to members and just $5 for nonmembers — and they include breakfast.

“The workshops enable people to get to know us better and sometimes lead to them opening accounts and taking out loans,” La Palme said.

In addition to hosting the workshops and an annual conference, DCFCU officials plan to make the community room available to local groups for business.

Groundbreaking was held in the spring, and if all goes as planned, the new building should be completed by mid-December and open by early February.

“We believe our new location will really be something all of our members and their communities will be able to enjoy,” La Palme said.

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