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MERRILLVILLE │ The Annual Meeting of the Regional Development Co. was a little more special Thursday as it was also a celebration of 20 years of serving the small business community of Northwest Indiana.

The meeting at Gamba’s Ristorante also was a chance for the Valparaiso-based RDC to award its most active bank partner and top lenders of 2013. Also honored were 20-year board members and Centier Bank, which was named the top referring bank of 1993-2013.

Centier Bank Vice President Paul Thiel was one of those honored as a top lender.

“It’s always good to be working with the RDC,” he said. “The people there are excellent at what they do. They make our jobs easier when we work with them. It’s a program that allows small businesses in the area to maybe afford a building for themselves that they may not already be available to afford.

"Sometimes when you deal with government agencies it’s not as easy as these guys make it because they’re an intermediary between banks and the SBA (Small Business Association) and they make it a whole lot easier.”

Another top lender honored was Lafayette Savings Bank Vice President Keven Jennings, who said the RDC offers great alternatives and options for borrowers to take care of the financing they need.

“It allows them to keep their working capital in their business,” he said.

Jennings said while it’s nice to get recognition, it wouldn’t happen without the borrowers.

“If you didn’t have the borrowers, the awards don’t exist,” he said.

The RDA also recognized four retiring 20-year board members: Dale Clapp, John Diederich, Joel Gorelick and Mark McLaughlin.

Regional Development Co. President & Executive Director Erica Dombey-Passauer said it was one of the biggest honors of the night.

“They’re choosing to retire at this point but their wisdom, their guidance, their expertise, their senses of humor – many things about them will be greatly missed.”

Over its 20-year existence the RDC has funded over 400 loans. It has $165 million representing of 504 financing, $445 million in total leveraged investment, created or retained over 5,300 jobs and has donated $250,000 back to the communities its served.