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Christian Lizaola

EDEN PRAIRIE'S LOCAL BUSINESS LENDER

Article by David Scheller

Photography by First Western Bank & Trust

Small businesses are the heart and soul of this country. They not only put wealth and security in the hands of regular people – they are the foundation of a community.

It is heartening that established and aspiring Twin Cities business owners can count on Christian Lizaola. Christian works for First Western Bank & Trust, which has eight branches in their home state of North Dakota and another eight in Minnesota. As the Eden Prairie bank’s business banking officer, Christian does much more than lend money to entrepreneurs. He helps our neighbors open for business and remain in business when the world starts throwing curveballs.

“First Western brought me on board to help with commercial lending,” said Christian. “My scope is expansive: I partner with small to midsize business owners in the Twin Cities area to meet their lending needs. It might be money for inventory, a line of credit, or to acquire commercial real estate. My clients might not have opened for business yet, or they might already have become decades-old fixtures in their neighborhoods. That variety is one of the things I love most about this job. I get to work with people from all walks of life.

“Working for a community bank gives me a much greater license to help my clients. I’m able to take the time I need to understand every detail of my clients’ potential and current businesses. I look closely at how they manage their finances, what merits they have working in their favor, and their business plans and projections.

“If I identify a shortcoming – such as no startup capital or lack of a good location – that doesn’t necessarily mean our work together has to end. I do my best to explore solutions to these hurdles, like working with the Small Business Administration (SBA) or a trusted commercial real estate agent. Agents have proven an especially valuable resource in my line of work, as they offer unique leads on business spaces for my clients in exchange for the opportunity to earn their future tenancy.

“We call this approach ‘the pathway to yes.’ Small business lending shouldn’t be about issuing a reflexive yes or no. A great business banking officer must take a far more active role in getting their clients’ businesses off the ground. I believe I partner with my clients in the truest sense possible.

“That personal touch shines through in everything I do. My clients often tell me they never even knew their previous lenders by name. They’re shocked when I meet with them in person, give them my direct phone number, and most importantly answer my phone when they have a pressing question or concern. Entrepreneurs can achieve so much more when their banker is accessible. It’s kind of sad that people have come to expect business banking to be so impersonal these days, but I’m proudly changing that perception one call at a time.

“I’m making the First Western difference every day. The SBA recently referred a person to me who just immigrated to Minnesota. We made an instant connection – I am Latino myself, and they loved that we could speak freely in their mother tongue. They wanted to start a Latin-themed coffee shop, but their business plan was not where it needed to be when we first met.

“I’m working closely with them until we get their plan perfectly streamlined and secure the funding they'll need to bring their vision to their new hometown. I’ll meet with them at the site of their future coffee shop this week, just so I can make certain it will be right for them. I know they're going to run a great coffee shop; all they needed was a partner who would go the extra mile for them to get things up and running.

“Helping someone to stay in business is just as rewarding as watching them cut the ribbon. I was brought on by First Western in late 2020, just as the Paycheck Protection Program’s second round of funding became available. A lot of people were getting turned away from the larger banks, as they didn’t have the capacity to handle so many applicants. But at First Western, as long as a business met the PPP lending criteria, we did all we could to help them. 

“I spent my first months buried in paperwork and working late into the night, but in the end, it was all worth it. The 60 or so small businesses I served have all either been forgiven for their PPP loans or will soon become forgiven. That kept hundreds of people throughout the Twin Cities employed, and provided countless others with the opportunities to keep their money in their community. 

“It’s usually advisable not to take things personally in the business world. Business banking, however, is an exception. I take everything personally because I want nothing more than to see my clients work and succeed at achieving their dreams. Together, we’re creating the community I want to live in.”

Christian is always available to help you start or grow your business. Please email him today at christian.lizaola@firstwestern.bank, or give him a call at (952) 516-7312.

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