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Nearly 15 years after bank collapsed, rural SBA loan leader is back in action

Charlie Conoley will seek to grow the USDA loan program at BayFirst National Bank in St. Petersburg.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 7:00 a.m. February 26, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Charlie Conoley has serviced more than $300 million in USDA and SBA loans in his career.
Charlie Conoley has serviced more than $300 million in USDA and SBA loans in his career.
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Longtime Manatee County community banker Charlie Conoley has been appointed to head up rural SBA lending for St. Petersburg-based BayFirst National Bank.

Conoley was named vice president, USDA Rural Development Lending Officer — a new position for the $930.17 million asset BayFirst, according to a statement.

It's a full-circle moment for Conoley, who founded Horizon Bank in Bradenton in 1999; one of its specialities was USDA agriculture lending. The bank became one of the leading originators of U.S. Department of Agriculture loans in the Southeast. 

Saying the bank was undercapitalized, regulators closed Horizon in 2010, when it had $188 million in assets. Little Rock, Arkansas-based Bank of the Ozarks assumed Horizon's assets and most of its deposits.

After the closure, Conoley was one of the rare bankers who spoke out against state and federal banking officials who closed the bank. In an October 2010 interview with the Business Observer, Conoley said the bank was only shuttered because regulators sought to get rid of any community bank that looked shaky so they could be seen as problem-solvers. “I still have a hard time viewing this as a failed bank,” Conoley said at that time. “I view it as a hostile takeover. A very hostile takeover.”

Conoley stayed busy in banking after Horizon. He was a vice president at Bradenton-based Premier Community Bank from 2011 to 2016, and after that he worked a short stint at Florida Capital Bank. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Manatee County School Board seat in 2016. 

In 2017 he was named vice president of government guaranteed lending at St. Petersburg-based Freedom Bank. Conoley was primarily responsible for growing Freedom's USDA Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program. And in his most recent role prior to BayFirst, he served as vice president, government guaranteed lending officer at Lake Michigan Credit Union based out of Tampa. Overall, the release states, Conoley has serviced more than $300 million in USDA and SBA loans.

At BayFirst, Conoley, a Bradenton resident, is joining an institution that's a national leader in SBA lending. The bank, according to the statement, closed out SBA Fiscal Year 2022 as the No. 8 SBA lender in the nation. Conoley, the release adds, is tasked with "overseeing and further developing the bank’s efforts to meet the lending needs of businesses located in rural areas across the country.

“As one of the nation’s top small business lenders, we must remain focused on expertly serving every small business, and Charles is going to aid in these efforts tremendously,” says BayFirst CEO Anthony Leo in the statement. “I look forward to seeing him drive results in the USDA space and help us increase our overall impact and success in rural areas across the nation.”

BayFirst, which changed its name from First Home Bank last year, is the principal subsidiary of BayFirst Financial Corp. It operates eight banking centers in the Tampa Bay area and originates residential mortgages locally. It was founded in 1999.



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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