Thursday, April 30, 2009

Greeley ought to make good on its namesake's promise

The collapse of New Frontier Bank in Greeley adds another betrayal the town needs to make up for to its namesake, Horace Greeley, the pro-labor, anti-slavery newspaper editor from New York who is most often remembered for a quote he may have never used:

"Go west, young man, go west."

It's not my chore here to argue the origination of the famous quote, but it is my choice to invoke it in taking to task the establishment of Greeley for three particular sins over the past decade.

New Frontier Bank's failure, according to a piece written in The Northern Colorado Business Report's April 24 edition, was a product of lax bank practices that were first noticed by Greeley real estate broker Carroll Miller, an investor in the bank who foolishly failed to cash out of it once he spotted problems way back in 2004.

Instead, Miller tried to convince board members of the bank that its practices were not healthy and needed to be corrected. Miller told the newspaper he didn't know much about Larry Seastrom, founder of New Frontier, when he invested, and until he observed bank practices that concerned him Miller apparently had no doubts about Seastrom's leadership.

As a matter of full disclosure, I should say here that as editor of ColoradoBiz magazine, I travelled with Larry Seastrom and our magazine wrote about him favorably, and we gave no indication in our coverage that Seastrom's leadership of the bank could have future negative consequences for either investors or customers.

Seastrom was replaced as part of the bank's closing earlier this month. I left the magazine more than a year ago and have had no contact with Larry since our travels together.

The fact is, at least from my knowledge of Seastrom, he was mostly interested in helping people in and around Greeley make the most of the state's business growth during the decade, and he pursued that end aggresively in order to build the business of his bank.

But good intentions are not the real stuff of good business, and the aggressiveness of New Frontier's pursuits are what got the bank in trouble.

Horace Greeley, who was one of the founders of the modern Republican Party, probably would be appalled.

Just as he probably would have been appalled at Greeley's past anti-Hispanic bent and prosecution of illegal immigrants during the past decade; and the helter-skelter sale of mortgages to people who obviously were not qualified, and who made Greeley the nation's capital for foreclosures, serving, too, as the canary in the mine of the nation's housing collapse.

Those are the three sins the town and region around Greeley should now feel obligated for making amends to Horace Greeley's memory and reputation. "Go west, young man," was not an exhortation to make victims of the poor and illiterate, it was a call to the young to seize opportunity where it was offered in the United States of the 19th century.

The New Frontier at the time was where Greeley the town now stands.

The people of the region ought now make good on their namesake's promise.

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