Local Bankers Coming Through for Ocala’s Small Businesses in Times of Crisis

Banks are stepping up to help Marion County’s small businesses via the Paycheck Protection Program, providing a ray of hope at the end of the economic tunnel.

In an effort to provide economic aid to those impacted by the pandemic, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The relief has many aspects, but one part, called the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), was designed to provide eight weeks worth of support to small businesses for their payroll, rent and utility expenses. Banks, under the Small Business Administration, were the mechanism for processing the loans under the CARES act. Within one week after President Donald Trump signed the bill, banks started taking applications, says Kevin Sheilley, CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP).

Although not all local banks have yet decided how they will participate, many local bankers, some of whose faces you see here, have stepped up to try to meet the needs of Marion County’s local businesses as fast as they can. In time, it is hoped that about 95 percent of the area’s 7,000 businesses will have the opportunity to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, notes Sheilley.

“There are at least 17 lending institutions here that we know are participating,” Sheilley explains. “There is an initial fee that they’ll get, but considering what they have to do to make sure this happens, they’re taking on a lot of risks in this process. These lenders are really focused on how we can impact our community. They’ve really gotten in on the front end, and we’re very optimistic that businesses here will fare better than other places in the country. It’s incredible.”

Applications have already started coming in, “tenfold more than what we take on in a given month,” says Rusty Branson, community president at CenterState Bank.

“It’s kind of like looking at a tsunami coming your way,” Branson observes. “We realigned our existing workforce to adapt to it. The spirits of our team are high. They understand the task in front of them and what it means to our customers. At the same time, each of our employees has their own issues at home, trying to work remotely and trying to balance their lives. But they haven’t lost sight of how important this is to our customers. This is a brand new program, so, in essence, we’re being asked to build the plane while we’re flying it.”

Adam Woods, a lender at F&M Bank & Trust, is already being inundated with PPP applications

“We’ve got a bunch of ‘em coming in at one time,” Woods shares. “There are just two of us here in Ocala, me and Carl Flanagan. We get backup help from the folks up in the main office in Georgia. We work from 5 am to 6 or 7 o’clock at night right now. Lunch? I just eat at my desk.”

In the end, it’s about helping the customers keep afloat, Woods contends.

“It’s gonna help them maintain paying their employees, which is gonna help the economy overall,” says Woods. “The banks are gonna have some different ways of processing. You make the best decision you can and help your clients.”

Jaye Baillie, executive director of the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA), worked with Adam Lombardo at Renasant Bank and has already received notification that the loan has been approved. Now they await the proceeds.

“We will be getting approximately $33,000,” Baillie states. “That covers eight weeks of payroll, plus rent and utilities. Our bankers helped us through every step of the way.”

Some would say that the economic impact of the pandemic crisis in Marion County became acute faster than the health crisis. It seems only right we pay tribute to these unsung heroes—local bankers on the front line of our economy’s health.

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