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Coming Together in a Time of Need

A letter from Sterling State Bank President, Justin McNeilus

This past month has been one of the most important in the history of Sterling State Bank, and I want to use this opportunity to say thank you to each and every employee that has helped us through this unprecedented time.

On March 27th President Trump announced the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as part of the initial $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package known as the CARES Act. Funding for the program was released by the SBA on Friday, April 3rd.


Like every other bank, we were given very little information on how the PPP program would function, who was eligible and how we were to submit applications. The one critical detail that we learned early was that we needed to be an approved Small Business Administration (SBA) lender in order to start processing applications for our customers and our communities. In this regard we were in an unusual position. While we had gone through the process several years ago to become an approved SBA lender, we had actually never submitted a loan to SBA. So while we were approved, we were not active in their online E-TRAN portal.


Leading up to Friday, April 3rd we worked to establish SBA web site access. This wasn’t an easy process. Adam Hartman and I continued to work to gain access right up until just before sundown Friday night. After sundown on Saturday, Adam and I met back at the Bank where we learned that the SBA had finally granted Sterling State Bank online access to their portal!


Right away we sprang into action.


All through the night we worked setting up our PPP command center and started processing customer applications. We put the call out to our PPP loan team to assemble at our Rochester South branch and early Sunday morning Annie Douangdy, Heather Donovan, Jerad Faudi, Adam Fuchsteiner and Troy Munsch arrived ready to work. Fueled by a fresh batch of doughnuts from Denzil, the fun did not stop until late that evening!


I can’t say enough about this team and all our employees and their commitment to our customers and our communities. When we called our PPP team in to work on short notice - on a weekend - they answered the call. I’ve never been so proud to work with all of you as I was in that moment.

Together we worked almost around the clock for over a week processing an incredible number of applications. Paul Rime and Tyler Coleman would take the night shifts, coming in at 5 p.m. and working overnight submitting applications. In the morning they would hand off to the day crew who would in turn prepare the loan applications, contact our customers, gather information, and share updates. Then Tyler and Paul would return at 5 p.m. and the process would repeat itself.


The speed with which we were able to process applications and fund these emergency loans for our customers was truly remarkable.


I believe we were the first bank to fund PPP loans in our Rochester market and we were among the first banks to fund in our Twin Cities market. This level of service and efficiency made an incredible difference.

The outpouring of response from our customers is unlike anything I have experienced in banking. Everyone was incredibly grateful for how fast we put money into their account, and that money made a difference. I’ll never forget one conversation where the head of an organization that we funded broke down in tears, grateful that they could now avoid layoffs. We continued working non-stop until funding ran out less than two weeks later.

During this time the entire Bank pitched in to help. While the PPP team was working around the clock at South, everyone else was working to support that effort. Whether it was answering questions over the phone, helping to gather information, opening new accounts, communicating with customers, establishing new cash management relationships, accepting paperwork & applications through the drive-thru window or helping fill in and cover for team members directly processing these loans – our entire bank rose to meet the challenge!

Through the first week of May our Bank has funded over $45 million in PPP loans to over 280 customers. Our smallest loan funded was $517 and our largest was $2.3 million. Most importantly, every one of our customers that wanted funding, was successfully funded. That is not true of all Banks. I’m really proud of the fact that not one of our customers who wanted to access this program was left out.

While PPP funding is a big help to many of our customers, this is still an extremely difficult economic environment for small business. That’s why as a Bank, we partnered with Mr. Pizza here in Rochester and Steve’s Pizza in Austin to deliver lunch to the entire Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) staff and our Austin/Mower County first responders.

This was a chance to say thank you to heath care providers and first responders, while also supporting some of our small business customers. I want to personally say Thank You to everyone who helped organize this effort. The response to both of these efforts has been heartwarming and good to see.

In banking we sometimes get asked the question: “Why should I bank with you?”

During this historic, difficult and unprecedented time – I know we have answered that question emphatically! When it mattered most for our customers and our communities, we came through.

For that, I want to again say Thank You to all of our employees. You’ve made a big difference during a big month in our Bank’s history. I’m excited to see what opportunities the rest of the year brings us!

Justin McNeilus