FINANCIAL FIRST RESPONDERS
Heroes are among us. They’ve appeared in both predictable and surprising places over the past two years. From the medical professionals who nursed patients back to health to the public officials who walked the fine line of hard truths, from the classroom teachers forced to muster their own courage to help the state’s children keep going to the front-line workers who kept us all fed and clothed and flush with life’s necessities.
And then there were the bankers. Little attention has been paid to the financial first responders and not nearly enough praise given to these dedicated men and women who collectively kept the country’s small business community afloat. They worked grueling hours, they explained complicated rules, they pivoted, they fought, and they cried right along with their clients—men and women just like you. They deserve a collective thank you far beyond this small sampling of stories straight from the battlefield.
Some homegrown businesses are so deeply rooted in the state’s cultural and economic landscape that it’s hard to imagine them failing—like Adventures on the Gorge, the longtime outfitter of whitewater and other adventures in a resort geared to all budgets.
But when a business is seasonal and summer is its season, a spring pandemic poses a monumental threat. “Not only could we not accept reservations,” says Michele Fowler, the resort’s CFO, “but we also began to experience requests for refunds and postponements. We very easily could have failed.”
When the PPP program was announced, Fowler contacted United Bank, one of several banks AOTG works with.
For a seasonal business, the PPP application was complex, Fowler says. It required comparisons of financial activity between various time frames. “The results that you got could be very different based on the criteria that were used. United was very able to guide us through that aspect of the process.”
In addition, because it wasn’t clear how far the federal funding would go, everyone wanted their application to be among the first reviewed. United Bank brought a reassuring level of competence to it right from the beginning. “It was our goal to work through the process and be as near to the front of the line as we could,” Fowler says, “and they helped us to get there.”
United was one of the few banks in the nation ready to accept and submit applications to the SBA on the very first day, says Regional President D.F. Mock. “Our team went above and beyond to help as many businesses as possible, working around the clock on nights, weekends, and holidays to make sure we supported small business customers as they faced new challenges brought on by the pandemic.” In West Virginia alone, United originated about 3,400 loans totalling nearly $500 million.
AOTG received its initial PPP funding in April 2020—just weeks after the program was launched. “I can’t say enough about our appreciation for United during this scary time,” Fowler says. “It wasn’t just about us, it was about our staff, and we’re very appreciative that they allowed us to weather that time.”