Bank lends a hand to small businesses

April 10, 2017 GMT

Three Rivers Bank of Montana in Kalispell recently was named the Montana Emerging Lender of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The award was given to Three Rivers for increasing its 7(a) loan production to 13 loans, with a total value of more than $2 million.

The bank first opened its East Idaho location as First Security Bank of Kalispell on May 5, 1974. The original bank was modest in size at 3,500 square feet, and featured a design similar to a Scottish Highlands chalet with a unique A-frame design. In 1998, the bank’s board of directors approved a second location, now located at 552 North Meridian Road, which opened on July 1, 1999. That same year the bank changed its name to Three Rivers Bank of Montana - after the Flathead, Stillwater and Whitefish rivers, which come together a mile southeast of the Idaho Street location.

A.J. “Jack” King was the first chairman for the board of directors at the bank, and his sons A.J. and John King now run the two Kalispell locations.

A.J. King, president of Three Rivers, said when the bank first opened in 1974 it averaged one or two small business loans a year.

As an SBA certified, preferred lender, Three Rivers works with underwriter Holtmeyer and Monson to put together loans. The bank also partners with Montana West Economic Development and the Montana Community Development Corp. to find businesses in need of financing.

The benefit of SBA loans is that they don’t have the large down payment and they have smaller payments, A.J. King said.

He added that over the years, the bank has been able to help local businesses in the Flathead get started or expand.

“It says something about the health of the bank, to look at some of these deals, that we couldn’t get to fit into our policy, but that we were able to do with the SBA,” said Kelsey West, the assistant vice president and a commercial loan officer.

In 2016, Three Rivers did a total of 13 SBA loans, which went to local businesses including businesses specializing in everything from food and beverage to lawn and irrigation to recreation.

Christopher Peterson first started doing business with Three Rivers in 2015 when he needed a loan to purchase Northwest Automotive.

Northwest Automotive opened in January 1996, but when the owner decided to sell the business in 2015, Peterson knew he didn’t stand a chance of buying the business without an SBA loan.

It took roughly 90 days, Peterson said, and he was approved for a loan from Three Rivers and purchased Northwest Automotive in July 2015.

“Kelsey [West], with Three Rivers, had taken a dream of mine and made it come true,” Peterson said. “I would have been working for someone else if it weren’t for them ... We’re in debt to them in more ways than one.”

Peterson recently took out a second loan from the bank to purchase a building across the street from the existing store to expand the shop, which currently has seven repair bays, adding another 10 repair bays.

“We probably could have done this one on our own, but the last thing you want to do is burn up your capital on an expansion,” Peterson said.

The bank requests a business plan from each applicant, but if they fail to meet the necessary criteria, the bank points them in the right direction, West said, adding that there are many resources in the community to help businesses put together a plan, including the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Flathead Valley Community College.

“We’re very involved in the process,” said John King, chief executive officer of Three Rivers. “We work with [small business] customers the same way we would with a customer who’s been with us for a long time”

“More people would like to get involved in being owners of their businesses, and we’re here to help with that,” John King said.

Three Rivers previously won the state Emerging Lender of the Year award in 2010, and has been one of the top three SBA lenders in Montana for several years, according to SBA.

The bank has already handled six small business loans in 2017, West said, “We’re on track to do just as much this year as we did [last year].”

“Being an independent community bank, for other families and newer generations, we’d like to provide them the opportunity to make a choice. With community banks disappearing, that opportunity will become fewer and fewer,” John King said. “We plan to be here for many years to continue, as a local, community bank.”

Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or by email at agray@dailyinterlake.com.