Rocky start needn’t be the final say

If you are my age and cut your grass as a child with a power lawn mower, it likely had a Clinton engine, manufactured in eastern Iowa. In the middle 1960s, Clinton Engines dominated the small engines market, producing tens of thousands of motors sold throughout the United States and exported to 90 countries. The company employed more than 5,000 people, many of whom worked in Maquoketa. One would think it would be a great place to open a bank. 

In 1958, a local business group chartered the Maquoketa State Bank, and in 1966, the founding investors sold a majority stake to Edward Tubbs and John Fagerland. How comforting to have the state’s 10th largest employer for a neighbor. Not long after the sale was complete, however, Clinton Engines filed for bankruptcy. The company was reorganized under new ownership but employment levels never recovered. By 1999, there were only 35 employees left and a year later it donated the office and factory to the city. Maquoketa tore down the factory and turned the office into a museum.

Sometimes, despite careful planning, a new business hits a roadblock right out of the gate. Things completely outside of your control can have a significant impact on your venture. Such was the case with the Maquoketa State Bank and its holding company, Ohnward Bancshares. Many of the farmers who supplemented their income with shifts at Clinton Engines saw a steep drop in income. But, as we describe in our feature this month, the bank carried on, adapted and grew — even during another rocky period: the 1980s when the farm economy tanked. What once was a $3.6 million bank when they bought it, has grown into a $1.4 billion banking enterprise with 260 employees.  

I find this example inspiring because so often things don’t go as planned. When I purchased the predecessor to BankBeat in 1992, about 15 percent of our advertising revenue dried up within months of closing when a law requiring publication of securities redemption notices was changed. Ouch! More recently, I think of all the people who launched restaurants or opened hotels on March 1, 2020. I applaud all of the businesses that somehow sustained through the pandemic, especially if survival required a hard pivot. 

Ohnward Bancshares demonstrates that despite disruptive events and economic gyrations, success is possible with steady effort, delivered with care for customers and community.