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.
When Bigger Isn’t Better
The federal government awards most of its contracts for several years at a time and, for the businesses that depend on winning those multi-year contracts to ground years’ worth of balance sheets, timing is everything. The COVID-19 pandemic almost threw a giant wrench into Roya Maher’s timing and could have spelled disaster for her seven-year-old company, had it not been for helpful bankers who led the way.
Maher opened A3L Federal Works in Fairmont in 2014 and grew the business to 50 employees specializing in software development and testing and providing IT services to the federal government. Before COVID-19 arrived, the company was expected to grow another 50% in the year ahead. Instead, Maher was faced with laying off her staff and, without the talent to do the work, pulling back on any new bids.
Luckily, Maher had a long-standing relationship with Mark Randalls and the team at Clear Mountain Bank in Morgantown. “From day one, they were the only bank that didn’t question that I, as a woman, was the sole owner of this technology company,” she says. “They’ve always been there for me, and I couldn’t ask for a better bank.”
Maher’s brother lives in New Jersey and operates a service business of his own. He found himself in the same predicament as his sister as shutdowns progressed like a line of dominos falling. He dealt with a large, national bank, Maher says, and his experience couldn’t have been more different.
Maher got straightforward guidance from Randalls and Clear Mountain Bank from the very first day. “They helped me gather everything I needed to submit a successful application to the PPP program,” she says. “When it came time to submit the application online, it was a Friday afternoon, and the website crashed. Mark had me drop my hard copies off to him and, by Monday morning, I received confirmation that my application had been submitted for me. Who does that?”
It was a pleasure, Randalls says. “There is great satisfaction when you get to help a small business get off the ground or grow. With Roya, it has been both,” he says. “The pandemic was a very trying time for small businesses, and the PPP loan program was key in keeping them open and operating. Clear Mountain Bank started processing PPP loans on the very first day that the program opened up and processed up until the time the funds were depleted. It was a team effort that involved every employee of the bank. The rewarding stories that we have heard from our small business owners have been overwhelming.”
Maher’s brother was baffled at the quick response she got from a small-town bank. And while Maher had money in hand in less than a week, her brother completely missed the first round of funding.
“These were uncertain and difficult times, and the people at Clear Mountain went above and beyond anything I could have ever expected. They were a big reason that my company not only survived, but thrived in a very challenging situation.”