FORT WALTON BEACH — When the hammer of unemployment fell on Northwest Florida following Gov. Ron DeSantis’s shelter at home order, local financial institutions took it upon themselves to soften the blow.


At Beach Community Bank, staff worked 60 hour weeks writing Paycheck Protection Program loans that allowed employers to insure their employees were receiving a paycheck.


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Peter Dyson, the Northwest Florida Market President for the bank, said the more than 500 loans for $57 million helped over 5,000 employees.


"It was really rewarding for us, our clients and prospective clients," he said. "As a community bank we were able to help them. And community banks across Northwest Florida were all doing a lot of the same thing."


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Even now, as the state slowly re-opens, PPP money is still available and loans are being written.


"It’s one of the ways the (federal) CARES Act is trying to help keep employees working and maintain the work force for when we come out the other side," said Rocky Dunn, the bank’s senior vice president for consumer banking.


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And as the world emerges into the new normal, financial opportunities should still be available for those who seek them.


Fixed mortgage rates are hovering around a very low 3 percent and now is a very good time to refinance, Dunn said.


This time of year is already the best to buy a vehicle because automobile dealerships need to clear inventory to make room for the arrival of next year’s models, according to the Financial Samurai website.


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Additionally, local dealers who saw sales drop off with the coronavirus are offering incentives like 0 percent financing, deferred payments and cash back.


Small business grants are also still being distributed in Okaloosa County and some of its municipalities. Crestview leaders in May made a great show of dropping in on local businesses with a $5,000 check in hand.


"Several people came to tears because they said they were within a month of having to close shop," Mayor JB Whitten was quoted as saying. "Several said they had applied for federal and state grants but our grants were the only ones that came through."


The grants are distributed through federal Small Business Development Centers.


Jack McLane, who has owned and operated Image Printing in Mary Esther for 35 years, said he was two weeks from having to close his doors April 1 when he decided to take advantage of a couple of loan programs.


With the assistance of a consultant who helped with the paperwork, McLane was able to secure first a PPP loan from Synovus Bank and later a bridge loan.


"Those have carried me without having to lose any employees and we stayed in operation to as good a standard as government stipulations allowed us to do."


Ironically enough "a lot of COVID-19 printing" gave McLane the business he needed as the coronavirus has run its course.


McLane also used the down time to streamline his business model, and now he’s in the process of creating an on-line presence through which to handle sales and re-orders.


"I’m going to have a more efficient operation when this is all said and done," he said.