3 Ways To Step Up For Small Businesses

Ent, Genisys, and Corning credit unions have each taken different approaches to offer much-needed support to area establishments.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Ent Credit Union, Genisys Credit Union, and Corning FCU have offered grants, gift cards, and cold hard cash in addition to PPP loans to help small businesses cope when the coronavirus forced shutdowns.
  • These credit unions went beyond business services to engage the communities through local partnerships and social media.

The coronavirus pandemic has delivered a crushing blow to hundreds of thousands of families and business across America.

In response, credit unions have eliminated fees, offered loan payment deferrals, and processed Payroll Protection Program loans for business members and non-members alike. They’ve also sought ways to support small businesses, often in the form of creative promotions and direct help.

Ent Credit Union ($7.1B, Colorado Springs, CO), Genisys Credit Union ($3.3B, Auburn Hills, MI), and Corning Federal Credit Union ($1.8B, Corning, NY) are among the many cooperatives that have responded to the pandemic with ardent support for members and communities. Here are their stories.

Ent Credit Union (Hearts) Small Business

CU QUICK FACTS

Ent Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.20

HQ: Colorado Springs, CO
ASSETS: $7.1B
MEMBERS: 399,348
BRANCHES: 40
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 20.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 23.9%
ROA: 0.45%

Early in the pandemic, Ent launched “We (heart) Small Business,” a social media contest that asked community members to name their favorite local business. The public submitted 13,000 nominations and shared what made these businesses great. From there, Ent randomly selected 20 semi-finalists, which a panel of Ent judges narrowed to four finalists.

Competition was fierce, with Ent profiling the finalists on social media and businesses encouraging their own followers to vote. Ultimately, the credit union distributed $50,000 among the finalists — $20,000 to an indoor rock-climbing business, $15,000 to a restaurant, $10,000 to a carpentry business, and $5,000 to an escape room business.

Fred Jacobs, Senior Manager of Media Relations and Sponsorships, Ent Credit Union

But the aid didn’t stop there.

“We were so impressed with the number of small businesses engaged with the contest that we randomly surprised another 10 small businesses with $5,000 each,” says Fred Jacobs, Ent’s senior manager for media relations and sponsorships.

That’s $100,000 in total support.

“The winners made thank you videos and let us know how much the money meant to their survival,” Jacobs says. “There was a lot of synergy in the promotion. It felt good during a very rough patch.”

The promotion built on a history of community and business support and helped burnish Ent’s image both in towns where it has an established footprint as well as locals it was just entering. Staying connected to the business community through local chambers and other busines organizations is an important piece of that strategy.

“We make sure these entities know that if they hear of a need, we’ll jump in and help if we can,” Jacobs says. “We lead with listening and education and make ourselves available to any interested business. Hopefully, that leads to a reputation as an organization that truly cares about its business members.”

Ent’s Chad Graves presents the $20,000 first place check to CityROCK, an indoor climbing business in Colorado Springs.

Genisys Generates Good Vibes With Startup Grants

CU QUICK FACTS

Genisys Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.20

HQ: Auburn Hills, MI
ASSETS: $3.3B
MEMBERS: 233,938
BRANCHES: 33
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 22.8%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 14.9%
ROA: 1.60%

Some 1,300 miles away — just northwest of Detroit and in many of the Motor City’s major suburbs and outlying communities — Genisys Credit Union has partnered with Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) to create and fund the Spirit of Main Street micro business startup grant program.

“This grant program is designed to complement MSOC economic vitality efforts and support entrepreneurship at the local community level,” says Jackie Buchanan, the credit union’s president and CEO. “It’s geared for businesses not more than five years old or preparing to open.”

Jackie Buchanan, President and CEO, Genisys Credit Union

Genisys grants up to $2,500 to go toward activities such as location renovations and preparations, signage, marketing materials and efforts, permits and fees, and more. Recipients must match the grant dollar-for-dollar, although they can include labor and material costs. The local MSOC program handles the disbursement of funds and compliance with grant requirements.

This year, Genisys awarded nine microgrants to restaurants, markets, and a downtown development authority in eight different Oakland County communities. Additionally, the credit union conducted an emergency grant program with one community’s Chamber of Commerce to help that town’s businesses survive forced closures in the spring.

Buchanan says Genisys, which each year sponsors more than 1,200 events throughout its service area, also has been working with local communities to help attract buyers to their existing businesses.

“We’ve worked with local chambers, downtown development managers, and city managers to restructure community events following COVID-19 guidelines,” the credit union CEO says. “These events have provided foot traffic to local businesses during their most difficult time.”

Genisys Credit Union used email to guide businesses to Payroll Protection Plan loans through the suburban Detroit cooperative.

According to Buchanan, the credit union’s support has covered event costs and the organization’s payroll. In cases where events were canceled, the credit union covered prepayments for 2021 events to help them remain viable.

Genisys also participated in the PPP program. The credit union made more than 250 loans for almost $12 million, “essentially ensuring” more than 1,700 paychecks made it out into the community, Buchanan says. Of course, this is all in addition to a thriving business services operation that currently serves 3,914 members with $124 million in deposits and loans totaling more than $125 million.

How Corning FCU Wins One For The Gaffer

CU QUICK FACTS

Corning FCU
Data as of 06.30.20

HQ: Corning, NY
ASSETS: $1.8B
MEMBERS: 118,384
BRANCHES: 20
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 19.5%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.8%
ROA: 0.89%

Corning FCU (CCU) is an SBA lender that also participated in the PPP program and offered loan deferrals to approximately 25% of its 4,000 business account holders.

But that’s not all. CCU and Corning Enterprises, the ceramics and optics maker that’s still based in the region, invested heavily in a “Buy Now Shop Later” gift cards program that helped stores in Corning’s Gaffer Business District stay afloat until they could re-open.

According to Stephanie Carl, the credit union’s director of marketing and digital experience, Corning Enterprises announced in early April it would match all gift card purchases up to $100,000 or through the end of the month, whichever came first.

Stephanie Carl, Director of Marketing and Digital Experience, Corning Federal Credit Union

“Amazingly, the match was exceeded in just three days, meaning $200,000 was injected into the local business community,” Carl says. “Upon hearing the match had been exceeded, CCU pledged an additional $50,000 in matches to keep the momentum going.”

The credit union announced the added boost at the end of the day on a Friday, and the community hit that mark by the end of the weekend.

“From the very start of the pandemic, we had been focused on how we could best support our members, our local communities, and our team,” Carl says. “This program felt like a perfect match for this focus and also got funds to those businesses who needed it quickly.”

A Facebook post from Corning FCU announces an effort by the credit union to promote local businesses.

Going forward, and beyond the gift of gift cards, the emphasis on serving its active business membership will be continuing in a consultative role, Carl says.

“Even beyond the pandemic, we act as a resource for guidance and best practices,” Carl says. “We’re focused on coaching members through the many challenges that pandemic has brought and will present in the future so their businesses are sustainable. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

4 Ways To Help Local Businesses

Corning FCU, Ent, Genisys offer four best practices to serve small businesses across every community.

Research. Get to know your member and their business, the industry they’re in, and what the prognosis is for that industry

Listen. Listen to your members about local businesses — they’re often passionate about their favorites. Then, listen to those businesses to determine their needs.

Communicate. Make sure small businesses know you’re there to provide solutions they need or to guide them to other solutions if it’s not you.

Follow through. Follow up when you say you’re going to follow up.

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