2004 was a year reflecting hope, strength and a renewed sense of confidence as our economy showed signs of improvement, and people showed a willingness and desire to step up to the challenge to help those in need. The hurricanes in Florida, then the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia reminded us how fragile life is, and how powerful nature can be. Americans joined the rest of the world in making contributions to help the victims in rebuilding their homes and their futures.
Our men and women in the military have continued to risk their lives while fighting the war in Iraq. Those of us at home continue to hope and pray for their safe and swift return. President Bush was re-elected in November, while issues such as terrorism, the war in Iraq, tax cuts, health care, education and the economy surfaced as key issues for Americans.
Johan Santana won the American League Cy Young Award. Greece proved to the rest of the world that their country was indeed ready to host 11,000 athletes for a spectacular Olympic Games. The Domestic Diva Martha Stewart was sent to prison on charges of obstructing justice. Atkins and South Beach diets were the craze as Americans were counting carbs, and Donald Trump inspired folks across the country to boldly say his favorite two words, You're fired.
Locally, St. Peter's new hospital opened its doors for business, with a beautiful state-of-the-art facility! Housing construction has still been booming in St. Peter with the new developments of Washington Terrace, Welco West, Windsor Pond II and Standard Lumber Addition #5. The Pine Pointe and Enz subdivisions are still growing as well.
Retired Marine General Clifford Cliff L. Stanley became the new president of Scholarship America, the Nation's largest non-profit private sector scholarship program, which is headquartered in St. Peter. Dr. James Peterson was inaugurated at Gustavus Adolphus College as the college's new president. Buildings were constructed at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, as others were torn down. New businesses that opened in St. Peter included Exceed Packaging, St. Peter Yoga & Dance Studio, Playing Possum Antiques, Fastenal, The Odd Jobs, Eckert Plumbing & Heating, Valley View Dental and Q. Nails. Hunter Hardwood and Jaraff Industries both expanded in the industrial park in northern St. Peter.
Agriculture continues to be a very important component of the area economy. The 2004 growing season was highly unusual. The cool weather resulted in delayed plant development for much of the spring and summer. Fortunately, September provided significantly more growing degree units than normal and generally allowed the crop to mature. Although there was a sizable range in yields due to frost, drownout, etc. the overall corn yields were very good, while soybean production was average to slightly below the trend line. Grain prices were well above the average for part of the year because of decreased 2003 carryover and strong demand. However, the prices eroded relatively rapidly during the year due to outstanding domestic production and improved world-wide output. The livestock sector was impacted by high feed costs for part of the year, but enjoyed favorable prices for most of the past twelve months. A sizable increase in energy costs during the year had a profound effect on operating expenses. The demand for land continues to be very strong. In addition, we have witnessed a significant impact on area farm land values and ownership from investor buyers and property exchange transactions.
Nicollet County Bank had another busy year as we introduced our new Jr. Life Savers Club for kids age 5-12, added an Identity Watch program to our Assured Checking plan, and have updated our Internet Banking program with image capabilities so our customers can print off copies of their checks and statements from their own home computer. We have adjusted to the new regulations for Check 21 and the Bank Secrecy Act. Joel Hulke, of LPL Investment Services has been located at the bank for three and a half years now, and our President Sam Gault completed the three year Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, Colorado. On a sad note, we said goodbye to long-time friend and NCB Loan Officer for thirty-one years, Burt Hoffmann. His, Hi yas and friendly smile will not be forgotten.
Nicollet County Bank has grown to nearly $120 million in assets this past year, and we were awarded our 61st consecutive Five-Star Bank Rating from Bauer Financial Reports, ranking us as one of the strongest banks in the nation. Our strength as a bank is mirrored by our outstanding employees, as well as our wonderful customers! Thank you for banking with Nicollet County Bank.
Samuel B. Gault, President
Nicollet County Bank
St. Peter, Minnesota