Capaha Bank executive vice president Danny Essner is committed to improving Cape Girardeau

Monday, May 21, 2012
Danny Essner, vice president and lending officer for Capaha Bank. (ADAM VOGLER)

Danny Essner is a banker by trade -- he's the executive vice president and senior lender at Capaha Bank -- but he works tirelessly to make Cape Girardeau an even better place to live.

"One of the reasons I do what I do and spend the time that I do is that I am very passionate about Cape," Essner said earlier this year after accepting the Rush H. Limbaugh Award from the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce. "I encourage everybody who is not involved to get involved because it is very rewarding."

Essner was a longtime member of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, has served on several campaign committees and is an active member of the River City Rodders and chairman of the group's annual car show. He was also recently selected to head up the committee searching for the new executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet.

Here, Essner talks about the banking industry, his community involvement and why he loves Cape Girardeau so much:

Business Today: How would you describe the current state of the banking industry? Is it different locally than nationally?

Essner: The banking industry is alive and well. The last few years have been challenging as banks have had to deal with problem loans, soft loan demand and increasing operating expenses due to escalating regulatory requirements. However, the worst appears to be behind us. Loan demand continues to steadily improve and banks, particularly community banks, are currently looking for new loans. Having said that, many banks in other areas of the country -- particularly in metro areas -- continue to struggle. Our local economy has always been less volatile and more resilient than the national economy. Based on what I am seeing and hearing, our consumers and local businesses are feeling good about the direction we are headed and are once again spending money.

BT: How has lending changed over the past few years?

Essner: The biggest change has been in the amount of regulatory burden imposed by the government. As a result of the large number of problem loans and bank failures that have occurred around the country, our regulators have tightened their underwriting guidelines and added a substantial amount of new regulation. All of this has made it increasingly difficult for us to take care of our customers the way we would like to.

BT: Have lending standards eased since the economy began its recovery? Are more people being approved for loans? What about businesses?

Essner: I really don't feel that lending standards have necessarily eased. Banks in general are more cautious than they were before the economic downturn. Having said that, solid borrowers with good credit have never had any problems getting loans. I would say that more people are getting approved for loans simply due to more people applying for loans -- both consumers and businesses.

BT: Do you expect the Fed to take any action on interest rates in the coming months?

Essner: Based on what I am reading, I expect the Fed to leave rates where they are for at least another year if not longer. That can always change if the economy starts growing faster than expected, but the consensus seems to be that we will see relatively slow but steady growth for an extended period of time.

BT: How would a change in the Prime Index rate affect the economy?

Essner: An "increase" in the Prime rate historically occurs when the economy is heating up and the Fed wants to slow down growth and avoid inflation. The Prime rate is currently abnormally low based on historical standards. If the Prime rate increases, it will ultimately create additional interest expense for our customers, but if the economy is rebounding that should not be a problem. At least some of our customers, specifically our customers who rely on the interest from their CDs to cover living expenses, would love to see rates go up.

BT: This is the Money Issue of Business Today: What's the best financial advice you ever received?

Essner: Clearly the best advice I have ever received (or given) has been to live within your means. It really doesn't make any difference how much you make, but how much you make in relation to how much you spend that really counts. Money can't buy happiness. Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses, only buy and spend what you can afford -- and make sure you are saving for retirement and unexpected expenses. You will be much happier in the long run.

BT: You've made community involvement a priority over the years. Why is it important to you?

Essner: I am very passionate about the Cape Girardeau area (I grew up in Kelso) and can't think of any place in the country where I would rather live, work and raise my family. As good as Cape is now, I want to help make it even better. I also feel strongly that each of us has a responsibility to give back to the community that we live and work in. If we all work together there's no limit to what we can accomplish.

BT: How did you become involved for the search for the new Magnet director? Why is the position important to the area's economic development?

Essner: I had an opportunity to serve a term on the Cape chamber board and really enjoyed working with the chamber staff and other board members on community projects. The Magnet board is comprised of representatives from Cape, Jackson, Scott City, Cape County and the Cape chamber. My term on the chamber board just happened to expire at the same time that the chamber's seat on the Magnet board became available and I was invited to serve in that role. I was subsequently asked to serve on the search committee for a new director.

The executive director of Magnet serves as the point person for our immediate area in generating economic development. This person is required to be well versed on the assets, both locally and at the state level, we have to offer potential new businesses, including various tax incentive programs. This person is also expected to identify prospects and actively market our area to businesses throughout the country and the world. They also have to be able to work hand in hand with other economic development partners in the region and the state and are required to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the local Magnet stakeholders. It is a very challenging position, particularly in today's intensely competitive environment, and we will do our best to select the right person for the job.

BT: Tell me a little about your family.

Essner: I have been married to my wife Debbie for almost 27 years. We have two lovely daughters. Kasie lives in Cape and is a pharmacist at SoutheastHEALTH. Kerri is a senior at Missouri State and plans to be an English lit teacher. We also have two dogs, Toby and Fred, who help me keep our yard fertilized.

BT: What do you do in your spare time?

Essner: I have been fascinated with old cars for as long as I can remember. I currently own a '55 Chevy and an '89 Mustang GT convertible. I am a charter member of the River City Rodders car club and also serve as the chairman of the annual River Tales Classic car show in downtown Cape. When I'm not working on one of my cars I enjoy doing yard work and reading.

BT: What's your favorite thing about Cape or Southeast Missouri?

Essner: I absolutely love the quality of life in Cape. We are small enough to get anywhere in town in 15 minutes or less, big enough to have lots of amenities and close enough to St. Louis to make a day trip to a ballgame or the Fox. I also love having four distinct seasons. But the thing I love the most about this area is our people. They are not only friendly but also caring and generous. We are a well-kept secret -- but I'm doing my best to spread the word to the rest of the world.

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