“Time flies” may be a cliche but it is firmly rooted in reality. Time really does fly by when one is busy or having fun. In the case of Lewis & Clark Development Group Executive Director Brent Ekstrom, it is a little bit of both.
This month, May 29 to be exact, marks 20 years since Ekstrom joined LCD Group. Ekstrom started as commercial lending director for Lewis & Clark Regional Development Council (RDC), a position he held until 2014 when he became executive director for the RDC, CommunityWorks North Dakota, and Lewis & Clark Certified Development Company (CDC).
Shortly after taking the helm, Ekstrom focused on greater synergy amongst the three groups and establishing a clear and recognizable brand image, which led to the launch of Lewis & Clark Development Group in 2017.
In addition to increasing LCD Group’s line of small business loan and commercial assistance programs, Ekstrom has focused on addressing North Dakota’s persistent and growing affordable housing challenge. LCD Group, through CommunityWorks North Dakota, is the state’s only NeighborWorks America chartered organization and has been on the forefront of tackling this issue. Working with state and local governments, developers and nonprofits, banks and credit unions, LCD Group has provided solutions ranging from multi-family housing development to new programs, such as the Essential Public Employees Program (EP2).
In 2018, four years into his work as executive director, the National NeighborWorks America Association (NNA) honored Ekstrom with its Emerging Network Leader Award. The recognition is given to an executive director who has led a NeighborWorks American organization in less than five years and who leadership has improved the value of their organization and the NeighborWorks Network. That same year, NeighborWorks America upgraded LCD Group’s organizational health rating from Strong to Exemplary, the highest possible rating for NWA chartered organizations.
As it was for many, 2020 may have been the most challenging of Ekstrom’s 20 years with the organization. Not only did LCD Group take a leading role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout, it also stepped into the void created by the sudden collapse of Lutheran Social Services Housing. The year ended with Ekstrom’s appointment to the Affordable Housing Advisory Council of the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Des Moines.
Ekstrom’s passion for his work is evident to all who know him or have had the opportunity to work with him. We asked Ekstrom to look back on the last 20 years and to dust off his crystal ball in looking ahead to LCD Group’s future.
What makes your work for LCD Group rewarding?
Seeing the impact of what our organization has done to advance economic and community development. I really enjoy seeing projects come to fruition, from the initial structuring to the deal making to the closing and completion. Knowing that our organization has helped dreams come true for business owners, homeowners, or tenants is truly rewarding.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the last 20 years in affordable housing?
The biggest change I have seen is the increase in the creativity in putting projects together. With the increasing demand for affordable housing and the reduction in federal funding we have been required to become more creative in finding funding sources to make projects work.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the last 20 years in commercial lending?
Since starting in 2001, I have seen significant increases in the size of projects and the increase in the loan amounts requested from our programs. The overall lending of our organization has increased dramatically. In my first years our goal was to provide at least $1 million dollars per year across all programs. We now average around $10 million per year.
Looking back on your last 20 years with LCD Group, what are you most proud of?
I am proud of how we have grown as an organization, not just growing our portfolio size and number of programs but also our impact in the community, truly making a difference in people’s lives. I am also very proud of our corporate culture. I believe the staff and board have a culture of entrepreneurism and community centered decision-making that has allowed us to expand programs and take on “out of the box” projects, which have both a positive financial and social impact on the communities and people we serve.
Look into your crystal ball, where do you see LCD Group going in the next 20 years?
This organization has built a solid base to continue to grow. We have established strong revolving loan funds across all organizations which will allow us to continue to fund projects across the state. The SBA 504 will continue to increase its portfolio and profitability. With the huge demand in housing due to the significant gap in available housing units, multi-family housing and management will be a significant area of growth for the organization. Continuing to work with our key partners we will see our owned properties grow through new construction and acquisition.