CHEYENNE – As soon as the Paycheck Protection Program became available through the federal CARES Act to help businesses pay their employees, lenders across the state of Wyoming mobilized to get the much-needed relief funding into the hands of small business owners.

With applications opening Friday, April 3, the lenders at Jonah Bank worked 14- to 15-hour days through the weekend and the following week to ensure Cheyenne businesses had the best chance to receive loans, which were distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. At Platte Valley Bank, staff also worked long hours to submit their customers’ applications the same day they were received.

The quick reaction from local banks paid off big time for Wyoming businesses.

According to the Wall Street Journal, community banks with under $10 billion in assets approved about 60% of the Paycheck Protection Program loans in the first round of funding. The smallest banks, with less than $1 billion, fared the best, accounting for just 6% of all U.S. banking assets, but approving nearly 20% of loan dollars.

“That first day that the money opened up, we knew we had a long road ahead of us and a lot of work, but it felt good to be able to serve the small businesses in our community,” Platte Valley Bank Assistant Vice President Lexi Leckemby said.

The first round of funding in the CARES Act relief package allocated $349 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which aims “to keep employees on payroll with the small businesses they work for and to provide those businesses with a way to retain excellent talent,” according to Small Business Administration Wyoming District Director Amy Lea.

Businesses that were approved for loans through their lenders received eight weeks of funding that allowed them to continue paying their employees. How much was awarded to each business was based on staff size and payroll, and 75% of the funds received had to go toward payroll, while the other 25% could be used for mortgage interest, rent and utility costs.

Because the relief package was released so quickly, banks scrambled to set up processes and best practices for getting their clients approved. While large banks like Citigroup and Wells Fargo put off accepting applications for days as they tried to set up their online portals, Platte Valley Bank staff worked tirelessly to submit the customers’ applications as soon as they were received.

With less red tape than larger bank chains and more personal connections to their clients, Leckemby said they were well prepared to meet the community’s needs.

“Just having that relationship makes it easier to do business,” Leckemby said. “We don’t have to go through and scrub our customers. We already know them, we already know their business, we already have their information and we’ve already had these conversations with them.”

They approved 1,200 Paycheck Protection Program loans that covered 11,000 employees.

Throughout the application process, a number of community banks saw a rise in new customers who hadn’t been able to apply through their larger lenders. At ANB Bank, one of the clients who switched was able to get their loan approved the same day. One of the business owners who opened an account with Pinnacle Bank had been on hold with their previous lender for nine hours with no response.

Welcoming those business owners with open arms, Pinnacle Bank President Matt Behrends said they realized every loan they administered makes a difference to the community.

“There was a lot of stressful, long hours, and a lot of scrambling, but we all knew the end goal was to help our customers and the community and everyone around the state,” Behrends said.

Pinnacle Bank was able to approve more than 850 Paycheck Protection Program loans worth more than $47 million.

In the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program loans, 7,618 Wyoming businesses received a total of $837,018,372 in funding. On average, each business received close to $110,000, and nationwide, the average loan was $206,000.

Though the Wyoming Small Business Administration office doesn’t have data on how many of those loans were administered by community banks, some local bankers think the number is higher than the national average.

“Our community banks really stepped up and approved even a greater amount than 60% of the loans in Wyoming, just based off the sizes of our communities and the banks and our smaller towns,” Mike Williams, senior vice president and Cheyenne market president of Jonah Bank, said.

While the nature of Wyoming’s landscape and economy lends itself to smaller banks, those banks also put in the hours to ensure the small businesses received the assistance they needed. A number of banks, like ANB Bank and Jonah Bank of Wyoming took a proactive approach, notifying their clients about the program before it opened up.

“We have such a close relationship with our customers, and so the communication level was just really strong. We were reaching out to them right away, and they were reaching out to us right away and getting us the information,” Williams said. “Then, we were able to efficiently start uploading the applications to the SBA to get those approvals.”

Each loan goes directly toward helping business owners pay their staff, allowing them to maintain their workforce while still keeping their lights on. Behrends said the program benefits all residents from the boost to the economy and that Pinnacle Bank was proud of the impact they were able to make.

“It feels good to be a community banker,” he said.

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