One Year In: A Chat with CFFA VP Patty Huddle

When Patty Huddle started her role as Vice President at Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority, the community was still coming to terms with the Covid crisis, and the future of local development was unknown. Would investment dry up?  Would there be shortages of labor and materials? Would work from home affect her ability to do her job?

A year later, Patty is happy to report development projects did not slow down – in fact, just the opposite: CFFA’s investment activity continued at a brisk pace and staff was able to advance the organization’s goals to increase its impact by offering a new program, The Neighborhood Improvement and Small Business Loan and efforts around affordable housing. In this interview, she reflects on a busy, if unusual, first year, how her previous work prepared her for this role, and why she is so enthused about development in Columbus. 

Congratulations for your first anniversary with CFFA. What about the organization initially appealed to you?

Huddle:  A number of things. First, it was the people. I’ve known and respected CFFA President Jean Carter Ryan for many years, yet we had never worked directly together. I saw this as an opportunity to continue to learn and grow in my career under someone I hold in high regard. Second, I was impressed with CFFA’s reputation. We’re trying to raise awareness of our organization, but those who know us, respect us.  Trust, respect, and integrity are very important to me.

I’ve been in traditional economic development roles at the local, regional, and state levels. This position gives me the opportunity to hone a specific area of expertise – development finance – while leveraging my existing economic development knowledge and relationships to positively impact our community.

You previously worked at One Columbus for nearly nine years. What was your role there, and what did you accomplish?

I held the position of senior vice president, economic development.  My duties included business retention and expansion (working with businesses presently based in our market) and community preparedness (working with communities in the Columbus Region footprint to ready them for success).  We, as a community and as a region, have made such great strides since the launch of Columbus 2020. I truly believe one of the secrets to that success is our ability to work collaboratively across jurisdictional and organizational borders.   I worked with quite a few company expansion and attraction projects, which are a source of pride.  But I also worked with economic development practitioners and community leaders to better position communities for economic development success which was also a great experience.  

 What is your primary role at the Finance Authority?

I’m responsible for marketing, oversight of the energy loan program and Neighborhood Improvement and Small Business Loan program, business development, project management, and working collaboratively with our team and Board to continue the organization’s success.

 Has anything surprised you about your new role?

A few things. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that prior to my hiring I had little perspective of CFFA’s level of activity. Keep in mind, I joined the CFFA team during the pandemic. Yet we had a pretty busy year. As the economic activity increases and our team continues to gel, I’m very excited by the thought of what’s possible.

It was also an eye opener to better understand the different FInance Authority programs and uses, such as the capital lease structure. It results in construction cost savings, which is incredibly important for all projects, especially with the rising cost of construction material. Several other offerings meet a variety of development financing needs. Taxable or tax-exempt bond financing from our A- rated Central Ohio Regional Bond Fund or conduit bonds based on the borrower’s credit support new construction, land acquisition, site improvements, and new infrastructure.  Special project assessments such as Tax increment Financing and New Community Authorities may serve as the repayment source.  Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing is repaid via special assessments, providing off-balance sheet financing for up to 100% of the project costs. And the new Neighborhood Improvement and Small Business Loan is proving to be a great fixed asset financing resource for not just small business owners but also non-profits.

Some people are surprised how much CFFA accomplishes each year with such a small staff. What makes it so efficient? 

I’d first point to the staff.  Jean, Marcy, and Jeremy don’t shy away from work.  Each has a great work ethic and contributes to the organization’s success.  And we’ve got a great Board of Directors.  The Board meets monthly – each member is an active meeting participant and most serve on a variety of committees. Finally, wisely, Jean has elected to work with great legal counsel, Greg Daniels of Squire Patton Boggs, and a financial advisor, Michael DiPerna and team with DiPerna Advisors. Each organization brings tremendous strength to the table. As a collective team, this group is not only top-notch from a subject matter expertise standpoint but also incredibly efficient. And we all know time is money.

You’ve been a leader in local economic development for decades. Development in the city really seems to be taking off right now, despite setbacks due to the coronavirus. What makes Columbus so appealing for investment right now?  

Those decades represent the time I’ve been involved in economic development and time that has been invested by countless individuals and organizations helping to position this community for success. 

At One Columbus, we launched an initiative called Prepared Communities Win. The success we are enjoying today was built on the foundational work undertaken many years, decades, prior.  It’s important we never forget that we are responsible for preparing the foundation for future successes today.  I’m especially excited about our leadership’s interest in playing an active role in the ongoing betterment of our community. Yes, the Finance Authority has been successful but we continue to ask, “What else can we do, and how else can we help move this community forward?”

What are your long-term goals for CFFA?  

First, maintain and extend the impact, integrity, and respect for the organization. I believe we have a stellar reputation. That must never be lost. As our market continues to grow, we’ll continue to use our financing programs to stimulate investment and job growth. I hope we’ll also remain curious, with a certain level of risk tolerance, to look for different ways we can make an impact.  

What is your priority for your second year at CFFA?  

I’m proud that we have a fair number of repeat clients, which I think speaks to the value and the positive experience delivered by CFFA. I know we can be a resource to so many more communities, developments, and organizations. I’ll continue to work with our external partners, Fetch and Versatile Words, to increase awareness of CFFA and how we deliver value into projects.

What upcoming development projects are you most excited about?   

Being a nature lover, I am really stoked to see Quarry Trails be built out.  

Tell us about life outside of work. What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?  

In 2014 I moved to a property with seven acres of land, which I enjoy tremendously.  As far as free time goes, between the three horses, two dogs, and wonderful family, there is never a dull moment!