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2012 Minnesota Community/Rural Lender of the Year

Release Date: 
Friday, March 30, 2012
Release Number: 
Advisory Number: 
Sherree Stratton (612) 370-2325

Minnesota SBA Honors
Community/Rural Lender of the Year

Winger, Minn. – Ultima Bank Minnesota, Winger, has been named the Community/Rural Lender of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minnesota District Office.

The Community/Rural Lender of the Year Award is presented to a lender that has exhibited an ongoing commitment to supporting the growth and expansion of small businesses in their community.  The SBA looks for lenders who definitely make an impact in their communities through the use of SBA loan programs. 

Ultima Bank Minnesota (UBM) began life as the Farmers State Bank of Winger in 1904 in Winger, Minn. a small farming community in the northwest corner of the state.  While the bank’s main charter remains in Winger, a town of about 200 people, a second facility was added in 1994 in Fosston, a nearby community of approximately 1600 people and most recently a third branch was acquired in Plummer, a community of 260.  The bank also operates a loan production office in Bemidji, Minn. and is planning to open a second loan production office in East Grand Forks, Minn. later this spring.  In the early 1990s, UBM realized they needed to combat a dwindling population and remote location.  The bank’s owners, the Skeie family, updated their strategic plan, developed technology-based products and began a pro-active marketing campaign.  That vision has allowed the bank to thrive and grow in a remote, rural area.

UBM is an approved SBAExpress lender and has closed over 50 loans within the last two years.  They have exhibited an ongoing commitment to supporting the growth and expansion of small businesses in the community by their increased use of SBA loan programs and SBA resources. UBM is a financial supporter to the Small Business Development Center and has worked closely with the Minnesota Business Finance Corporation to assist with the SBA 504 loan program.  They utilized the Recovery Act with the ARC loan program and the 7(a) program to eliminate SBA fees and assist area small businesses during and immediately following the recession. By their continuing support of a variety of economic and non-profit activities, they also show how important it is for the bank to be an active member of their community. 

UBM has been instrumental in helping form the Winger Renewal Authority.  In June of 2007, a small group of local business people and community members, led by the bank’s owners and senior management, met to discuss the future of Winger and what could be done to improve its prospects.  That fall, a public meeting, sponsored by UBM, was held to obtain community input.

A number of priorities were identified including improving Winger's image, removal or restoration of blighted buildings, bringing in new businesses and jobs, assistance for housing improvement and general community cleanup.  To take on these tasks, the city council, formed the Winger Renewal Authority (WRA), a Minnesota Economic Development Authority, and appointed board members in early 2008. 

Two senior UBM officers have served on this board since its inception.  A Winger Strategic Investment Plan was developed and approved by the city council which included the goal statement: “Transform Winger into a modern rural community with a vibrant business sector, great homes, attractive streets, and a dynamic future.”  A strategic partnership was formed between the Winger City Council, WRA and UBM.  The bank and the Skeie family committed up to $250,000 in match-funding to help move the project forward. 

Some of the things that the WRA has accomplished so far are the acquisition of an old school, with demolition completed last fall.  The site is targeted for new affordable housing.  The city, with UBM assistance, applied for and was awarded a $178,250 HUD Community Block grant for five existing Winger business renovations. Four renovations have been completed, with one and possibly a sixth scheduled for completion in 2012.  With required local match, this will result in a minimum $278,000 investment to the business community.  UBM was a sponsor of this grant application.

The Skeie family purchased the vacant Depot Café and adjacent convenience store, both housed in the historic Winger Soo Line Depot.  After considerable personal investment, the Depot Café and convenience store (now Winger Mercantile) reopened with the addition of a new bottle shop.  Minkota Technologies, an area IT sales and service company, relocated to Winger and is part of the current Small Cities Block Grant.  Old buildings have been purchased and/or removed and businesses expanded.  UBM purchased a vacant commercial building adjacent to the bank, tore it down and used the lot for expanded parking and new green space in downtown Winger.  The WRA worked closely with the city to develop and update zoning and nuisance ordinances.  In 2010, the Winger Strategic Plan was updated to document progress and incorporate new initiatives.

Between UBM and the Skeie family personal investment, the original $250,000 commitment to WRA has been well exceeded.  While still having a ways to go, Winger is now recognized as a small community that is turning the tide of decline into a future of growth and opportunity.  Very little of this would have happened without the commitment by UBM and the Skeie family of funding and leadership.

For more information:

Jamie Austin
Vice President
Ultima Bank Minnesota
PO Box 9
Winger, MN 56592

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