How two Tampa Bay businesses navigated challenging PPP waters to stay afloat


By: Pat Fenech, Managing Director SBA Lending

When commercial airlines started grounding flights in late March due to Covid-19, Doug Hess knew his business was about to take a hit.

“The travel restrictions and decrease in international travel have dramatically affected our business,” said Hess, managing partner of Tampa-based medical flight company GlobalMed Services.

Hess reached out to his business banker, Steven Hoschak, an SBA development officer at American Momentum Bank, where GlobalMed Services had held accounts for a few years. With Hoschak’s guidance and knowledge of the rules and regulations, Hess applied for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to keep his company afloat.

GlobalMed’s PPP loan for just under $20,000 was approved early in the second round of funding, giving the business the resources it needed to ride out the crisis. But while Hess’s PPP experience was uneventful, he couldn’t say the same for many other business owners he knew.

“I have a lot of friends who own small businesses who bank with larger banks, and when all this was happening, they couldn’t get anybody at the bank to call them back, nobody knows their name,” Hess said. “I had the opposite experience. I have my bankers’ cell phone numbers, they call me right back, they know who I am and know about my business.”

Mark Merrill’s foray into the PPP process wasn’t initially smooth, either.

Merrill is the founder and president of Tampa-based Family First, a national nonprofit, charitable and education organization. Merrill sought a PPP loan to cover payroll for the organization’s 28 full-time employees. But, he ran into challenges working with his long-time bank.

“We had a banking relationship with a large bank for many years,” Merrill said. “And I think they had good intentions, but when there’s not that personal relationship with someone at the bank who can make the decisions that need to be made, on our behalf, at a very crucial time, we were just one of thousands of loans they were trying to process.”

Family First’s application with that bank wasn’t approved during the first round of funding.

“When the second round came out, we thought it would happen,” Merrill said. “But we continued to have the same challenges of determining where we were in line and what progress we were making. The gentleman at the bank was doing the best he could, but he couldn’t even see the status of our loan.”

Merrill was familiar with American Momentum Bank as a primary sponsor of Family First’s All Pro Dad events in Tampa for the past two years. Family First and the Merrill family also had done ancillary business with the bank so Merrill spoke to Porter Smith, Tampa Bay market president, about the challenges he was experiencing with the PPP process.

“Porter started the loan process that same day, the application was submitted the following business day, and the day after that, we were approved for our PPP loan,” Merrill said.

Merrill also opened business accounts at American Momentum that same week.

“When I look at the big picture of the banking relationship, we want a bank that is not just there for us some of the time,” Merrill said. “We want a bank that’s there for us all the time.”

Smith said, “We know that many times business owners don’t need to see their banker, that technology and automation have taken some of the personal touch out of banking. But there are times — and the pandemic has brought this to the forefront — when having a relationship with your banker can mean the difference between your business surviving and your business going under.”

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