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Red Bay bank president videoconferences with Trump

Red Bay Community Spirit Bank President, CEO and senior lender Brad Bolton recently received the honor of representing nearly 5,000 community banks in a virtual meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss the Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP authorizes forgivable loans for small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

Bolton, vice chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America, and ICBA Chairman Noah Wilcox noted the importance of community banks in their comments to the president.

“Being accessible and responsive to our customers is what community bankers do, and I am proud to wear the title of a community banker,” Bolton said. “I ask that you deploy the resources necessary to get every community bank in the country in the system. I am confident that if we can unleash the full power of all community banks … small businesses will be restored, paychecks will be restored and our communities can begin (to recover) and begin flourishing again.”

Bolton said some nights he has been up until 2 a.m. working on loan applications to help small businesses receive funding as soon as possible, and the bank has had all hands on deck. He said Community Spirit Bank began taking PPP applications April 3, and is continuing to accept them, from existing customers.

“We have loans coming in from all over Franklin County and the other counties we serve,” Bolton said. “At present we have over $5 million in loans funded, with an average balance of around $104K and loans as small as below $10K.

“We are a small rural community bank, and like some of our larger bank counterparts, there are only so many of these we can do,” he added. “We are attempting to do as many as we can before we reach our comfort limit.”

Bolton said this is the first time in his memory “that we have a stimulus package that truly has the opportunity to benefit rural America and the small businesses that are the backbone of our area and our entire country.”

“It is truly a bold initiative to support small businesses but in doing so support the employees that work for them,” Bolton added. “You see, the money is only eligible to be forgiven if they use at least 75 percent for payroll cost, so this truly is an engine to put paychecks back into the pockets of Americans.”

Bolton called the CARES Act, of which the PPP is a part, a great victory for small businesses across the country. The only hiccup now is a few procedural hurdles in successful implementation of the PPP. “We can hope that the SBA will put the resources necessary in place to work out the glitches in their operating systems as well as provide firm and final guidance on funding of these loans. We are close, but we are not there yet.

“Small business is the economic engine that drives most communities,” Bolton added. “You think of the term ‘small business,’ and it has far-reaching effects and touches so many areas of each of our lives. We just take it for granted. Take small businesses out of a community, and jobs go with them; take the jobs out, and the community slowly dies. This is why we must make sure small businesses survive.”

Bolton said the PPP will hopefully be a part of making possible a return to normal following the pandemic.

“When you turn the lights off on a business and then wait two months to turn them back on, it will be difficult to get things back going again,” he said. “Americans want to work, and they want to live their lives in a free and open way, so I think things will be restored, but it will be a long recovery period.”

Standing out among others involved in the teleconference, Bolton made it a point to let Trump know he is praying for him daily.

“Scripture tells us we are to pray for our leaders,” Bolton noted. “I would hope that everyone of faith is praying that this virus would go away, that no more sickness and death would be here and that our leaders on both sides of the aisle are given wisdom from the Creator to make the best decisions they can make. That is my prayer: for wisdom and discernment for our government leaders.”

Bolton said he was honored to represent community banks across America to discuss the struggles they are all facing during this time.

“The best way to sum it up is my community bank story is someone else’s community bank story and vice versa,” Bolton said. “I count it as an honor to help and be one of the many voices advocating for a strong community banking industry.”

Bolton added he would “strongly encourage any small business that is struggling or fears the uncertainly of these times to seek out sba.gov to evaluate the economic injury disaster loan, or contact their local community banks to discuss the PPP loan.”

“We are blessed with some great community banks,” Bolton added, “not only here locally but across Alabama and this great country.”