Bank President and CEO Eric Hardmeyer said the bank initially helped connect community banks, lenders and state officials with federal officials to facilitate federal coronavirus business aid, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which helps small businesses with payroll costs.

Weekly phone calls included as many as 600 bankers throughout North Dakota on the line with U.S. Small Business Administration and state officials.

The Paycheck Protection Program has distributed 19,774 loans to North Dakota businesses, totaling more than $1.76 billion. The Washington Post reported in May that North Dakota small businesses topped other states in receiving program dollars, relative to the states’ workforces. The program has an extended deadline of Aug. 8 for applications.

The pandemic has been “uncharted territory,” Hardmeyer said, but the bank wasn’t unprepared, having stepped in after past financial and natural disasters.

“I’ll tell you that we have had experience, of course, dealing with financing or helping to assist through a crisis, whether it is the financial crisis back in 2008 or a weather-related crisis — floods, tornadoes, that type of thing,” the longtime bank executive said. “So we have had experience doing this for 20-25 years, and so the first thing that we acknowledged was that you have to let the federal programs do their thing.”

The bank then took stock of what it could do for businesses that might still have needs.

“We wanted to plug that hole and make sure that those people got access to funding, absolutely,” Hardmeyer said.

Unique asset

State and business officials laud the bank established in 1919 as unique asset for North Dakota. Hardmeyer said the bank has “quickness, nimbleness, flexibility” and strong relationships with community banks that create an advantage.

“It becomes seamless,” he said.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who led the bank from 1993 to 2000, said the institution was “very proactive” in organizing the lender calls. The bank well tailored its loan programs to “fill in around” the federal aid, he said.

“Small business is the backbone of our economy, both here in North Dakota and across the country, so it’s really important that we help small businesses and remember the focus of that help is the worker,” Hoeven said. “That’s the key, is to try to make sure those workers get a paycheck, but then to keep them tied to those businesses so they can get up and going again as soon as possible.”

Businesses each have specific needs as a result of the pandemic, which Ritter said underscores the importance of a range of assistance, including the bank’s loan programs.

Jacobson said the SELF loan was “very helpful.” The Brick Oven Bakery’s one-year anniversary is Sept. 3. The bakery started offering cold beverages of iced coffees and iced teas this summer, in addition to its traditional breads, pastries, lunches and weekend breakfasts, all while practicing coronavirus health guidance.

“It’s going well,” she said.

Sen. John Hoeven -

Sen. John Hoeven (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio – Joy Holder)