It takes flexibility to stay financially stable in the midst of a pandemic.
“What we’ve seen [is] you have to be able to pivot; you have to be able to be creative,” said Lynn Harton, chairman and CEO of United Community Banks, who has seen from a banking perspective how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the financial health of the Southeast. “You have to say, you know, okay, how can I adjust my business? How can I reduce my expenses? How can I find new ways to meet clients?”
Business owners who can do that maintain their business. Their companies are financially healthy.
“I think, fortunately, all the states that we’re in are doing relatively very well. And they’re doing relatively well for a number of reasons,” said Harton. Those reasons include the overall trend of the Southeast’s economic growth — it’s been growing faster and attracting more talent. On top of that population growth, the region is also business-friendly.
Companies here have “benefited from business, investment and expansion over the years,” he said.
When the pandemic first hit, Harton said United Community Bank saw its business customers’ orders drop off quickly and their traffic decrease significantly. Companies stopped spending money.
United Community Bank made 11,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans for about $1.2 billion to support small businesses, according to CEO Lynn Harton.
“I mean, if you look at deposit growth both for us and for the whole industry, it’s been dramatic. And it’s driven a lot by the savings rate of both businesses and consumers as they kind of prepared initially in that hunker-down phase,” Harton said.
Businesses, though, are adjusting their work in order to survive. They’re finding new ways to find clients and new offerings to provide customers.
Harton points to the hospitality industry, for example, where hotels are getting some traction as people travel domestically instead of internationally.
“The government programs that have been put in place, I think have been outstanding,” Harton said. “The fiscal response was far quicker than it was during the Great Recession and much larger.”
United Community Bank funded 11,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans for about $1.2 billion to support small businesses, according to Harton.
At the end of the day, Harton is optimistic about local economies in the Southeast.
“If you look at all the economic data that has come out [it] has generally been better than what was expected,” he said. “I’m really optimistic about where the economy’s going.”