For Debbie Thomas, owner of Cornerstone Furnished Solutions in Lutz, the prospects were not looking good.
Like thousands of other business owners, Thomas was trying to obtain a Paycheck Protection Program loan to pay her 18 employees. But every time she heard from her bank, Wells Fargo, it was only to tell her that her application was still in the queue and that she might want to apply elsewhere. Other large lenders were saying they would only help pre-existing clients, or try to help new clients if there was still money left when they finished helping their current customers.
“It was an incredibly helpless feeling,” she said. “I know I am a small fish in their pool, but I had been with them for 20 years.”
Through the Small Business Administration website, she managed to find First Citrus Bank.
“I had never heard of them,” she said. “I had to Google their address to fill out the application.” But in the end, her application went through.
Founded in 1999, First Citrus Bank now consists of five locations in the Tampa Bay region and recently surpassed $500 million in assets. The bank was one of a few in the region that was able to assist small businesses that had not been clients prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re a small business just like the folks we’re lending to,” said Jack Barrett, president and CEO of First Citrus. “Many of us grew up in Tampa, so we have an obligation to be supportive of the local community … we were getting a lot of emails from [business owners] who were saying that [no lender] would even talk to them.”
First Citrus, which did a little over $100 million in loans for 2019, did more than $64 million in PPP loans over the last week and a half. Barrett said the 668 loans they did over the last couple weeks are more than First Citrus has done over the last three years.
Of those 668 loans, Barrett said a little less than a fifth of the applications were from businesses that had joined First Citrus to secure funds through PPP. Barrett said First Citrus did not prioritize between clients and non-clients, as some other banks had done.
“We didn’t segment by who was new and who was existing,” he said. In the end, the bank was able to process almost all of the applications that it had received before the first round of funding had run out.
Barrett said earlier this week that the bank was “sharpening [their] spears,” for the next round of PPP funding and that the bank had a “full plate of [applications] by the morning of April 22. The bank posted on its website Wednesday that it recommended businesses that had not yet submitted an application look elsewhere.
Although he expects the funds to go more quickly this time around, Barrett said First Citrus was committed to helping as many people as possible.
“We’ve got the process refined, our production is ready, and we’re catching our breath before … the starting gun goes off later this week,” he said.
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