It’s always a feeling of accomplishment when you reach a milestone. For First National Bank – Fox Valley, 125 years of service to the Fox Cities region has been an enjoyable milestone to celebrate. But we would not have reached this milestone if it were not for the business and personal customers who rely on us for financial help, whether it’s a loan or advice to help a small business grow, or helping family secure its first home.
It was great to be recognized for that milestone in this morning’s Post-Crescent. Even better – that recognition was illustrated through the success of one of the small businesses we have helped to grow through a Small Business Administration loan.
The following story appeared in the Monday, November 19 edition of the Appleton Post-Crescent.
Written by Larry Avila
Post-Crescent business editor
NEENAH — Steve Finley literally gets his hands dirty every day.
Just over a year ago, Finley, left behind a high-tech and knowledge management career, to help launch Intelligrowth, an organic fertilizer business in Grand Chute.
“When I learned more about it, I just got hooked,” Finley said. The business raises worms, right now about 400,000 of them, whose castings and excrement are collected, which are then used to produce an all-natural fertilizer.
Business is booming for the firm, which has two part-time and four full-time workers. Growth potential is promising, said Finley, the company’s chief operating officer.
Intelligrowth is one of many Fox Cities area businesses that got their start thanks to a small business loan from Neenah-based First National Bank-Fox Valley, which is marking 125 years in business this year.
FNB earlier this year was recognized by the Small Business Administration as the top SBA lender in the $101 million to $350 million category. FNB authorized 40 SBA loans between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2011, totaling about $11 million.
The SBA estimated those loans helped create 90 new jobs across northeastern Wisconsin.
Commercial lending is the core business of FNB, said Peter Prickett, bank president and CEO. When the financial industry suffered a setback in the wake of waves of defaulted mortgage loans a few years ago, regulators tightened rules on lending to ensure those who could borrow money were able to pay it back.
“From a regulatory perspective (lending) has tightened up,” Prickett said. “We have money to lend and have plenty of deposits and we are very open to lending but because of tougher procedures some of the things we’d like to do, we just can’t, because the level of risk must be manageable.”
Finley said a business like Intelligrowth presented a unique opportunity to FNB. Increasing interest among gardeners and food growers nationally to use natural fertilizers versus traditional chemically based products translates to more potential growth.
“They’re anxious for us to really take off,” he said. FNB representatives have brought people in to check out Intelligrowth.
Prickett said if a business can show it has the potential to repay a loan, FNB wants to help.
“A solid business can get loans, if it has the collateral and can give us a good reason to be lending to them,” he said. “Banks are not investors, we lend and we expect to get it back.”
Smart lending practices helped FNB grow its assets by $100 million since 2008. The bank now has about $309 million in assets under management and employs about 64 people across its locations in Appleton, Neenah, Menasha and Oshkosh.
In an era of bank mergers and mega institutions getting larger, FNB’s focus remains on the Fox Cities.
“The Valley really is a good place to do business,” Prickett said. “It is a great community with a great culture and quality of life.”
Prickett said FNB’s market share represents a fraction of the Fox Cities financial market.
“I don’t feel a need (for the bank) to go into Green Bay or down to Fond du Lac,” he said. “We can grow (in the Fox Cities).”
Brick and mortar expansion is possible in the future for FNB, though there is no rush, Prickett said.
As more people do their banking online and increase use of debit cards, deciding whether to add more branch locations becomes more difficult.
“When it comes to brick and mortar, we think people still like the vision that there is something there, that’s there in their hometown where they can go into and talk to someone,” Prickett said. “But there is more and more people doing banking online, and less and less traffic in the branches every day, but the online banking isn’t growing as fast as everyone predicted.”
Commercial lending is the biggest part of FNB’s business, Prickett said. It also offers traditional home mortgage loans and consumer banking products.
Despite talk of a slowing global economy, Prickett said the Fox Cities has remained resilient.
“(Lending) had been flat up until about a year ago,” he said. “Our commercial customers really have seen increase in business, which caused them to come to us with help on expansions and working capital to accommodate sales growth.”
Manufacturing and real estate has seen the best activity in recent months, Prickett said.
“There has been some uptick,” he said. “It’s been noticeable and I don’t think it’s short term but very sustainable.”