Covid relief loans injected $ 3.2 billion into Montana small businesses

HELENA – Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on federal Covid relief funds in Montana – which will exceed $ 7 billion.

For Paul Mabie, co-owner of Restaurant and Hostel Helena, federal Covid relief loans likely saved his businesses, which were launched just months before the pandemic began in early 2020.

“We put everything on the line to open this project in July 2019 and when Covid hit we thought we were going to lose everything,” he said this week. “And we are here today, prosperous, vaccinated and ready to open our businesses to receive the roar of hospitality that Montana is enjoying because of the funding that has come through these programs.”

Mabie’s Oddfellow Inn & Farm and two other Helena Airport restaurants received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and emergency disaster loans – and they were certainly not the only businesses in the Montana to get help.

Mike Dennison-MTN News

Paul Mabie, co-owner of Oddfellow Inn & Farm in Helena.

In Montana, PPP – which was closed for applications this week alone – has made 47,000 loans totaling more than $ 2.6 billion, since April 2020.

And disaster loans, extended by Congress during the pandemic, have provided an additional $ 630 million to small businesses in Montana since last year. Companies affected by the pandemic still have until the end of this year to apply for these low-interest loans, which are repaid over 30 years.

Brent Donnelly, Montana District Director for the US Small Business Administration, says both programs have been well received by businesses – and, he says, successful.

“A lot of the companies I’ve spoken to have said to us, hey, PPP was something that gave us a bit of breath and like, ‘OK, how are we going to deal with the pandemic?’ “he told MTN News. “They looked for new customers, they looked for new markets, they changed their business locations. “

The PPP targeted businesses with 500 or fewer employees, to help them retain their employees, pay rent and cover other costs to help them weather the pandemic.

It started as part of the first massive Covid-19 federal aid plan approved in March 2020, at $ 350 billion nationwide. It has now reached $ 800 billion as Congress extended the program as the pandemic lasted much longer than expected.

Some or all of the loans will be forfeited if companies meet certain requirements, such as retaining at least 60 percent of their employees.

As of this week, about 63% of Montana’s 24,000 P3s approved in 2020 have gone through the forgiveness process, Donnelly said, and nearly all of them have been approved.

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Mike Dennison-MTN News

Brent Donnelly, Montana District Manager for the US Small Business Administration.

The SBA maintains a public database listing all approved PPP loans and recipients. The Montana database reveals awards given to businesses in nearly every community in the state, large and small, and to multi-million dollar businesses as well as sole proprietorships.

Highlights include:

· The largest prize was $ 10 million, to Missoula’s Consumer Direct Care Network home health care company. Eleven companies had loans of $ 5 million or more, and 281 loans totaled at least $ 1 million.

· Almost 21,000 of the loans were made to businesses with only one employee, for an average of $ 11,200 per loan.

· Almost 39,000 of the loans – 85% – went to businesses with 10 or fewer employees.

· Almost $ 1.6 billion in loans went to businesses in the state’s seven largest cities – although small towns often also have large recipients. For example, in Little Alzada in the southeastern state, 46 businesses had loans totaling $ 832,000.

But, in the other extreme corner of the state – Yaak, in northwestern Montana – no one had a loan.

The largest loans have gone to construction and engineering companies, a mental health center in Missoula, manufacturers, hotel companies and mid-sized hospitals.

Rich Rasmussen, president of the Montana Hospital Association, told MTN that small hospitals were losing revenue at the start of the pandemic as elective surgeries were canceled, but had to keep staff and even step up efforts to respond to patients in need. emergency.

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MTN News

Rich Rasmussen, president of the Montana Hospital Association.

The PPP program was their only source of help at the start of the pandemic, he said.

“Small hospitals don’t have the same level of reserves as large hospitals,” Rasmussen said. “PPP loans have therefore enabled them to retain all their staff throughout the duration of the pandemic. …

“It was really a bridge to bring us to where we could bring elective procedures back, so that we could continue to remain financially viable through the summer and fall when we saw our biggest patient crush. . “

Sidney hospital had the largest PPP loan of any hospital, at $ 5.8 million, while hospitals in Anaconda, Livingston, Glendive, Glasgow, Lewistown and Dillon all had loans of at least 2 , $ 8 million.

Billings-based architecture and engineering firm Cushing-Terrell secured the second largest loan with $ 7.2 million, while Dick Anderson Construction from Helena secured the third loan with $ 6.8 million.

Corey McGreevey, CEO of Dick Anderson Construction, said he was able to maintain most of its 350-plus employees even if he had “important projects” canceled, postponed or delayed by the pandemic.

“We feel a strong responsibility to our employees and the communities we serve,” he said. “A significant portion of the loan proceeds flowed back into our local communities through our employees, which we were able to keep. “

Cushing-Terrell declined to comment on his loan.

Ben Bledsoe, CEO of Consumer Direct Care Network, said he was able to qualify under “alternative sizing guidelines” even though he has more than 500 employees, and get the maximum loan of 10 millions of dollars.

The Missoula-based company has several thousand workers in 15 states, providing home health care and assistance to the elderly and disabled.

The company has seen a sharp drop in revenue and demand for its services as many people did not want others to enter their homes during the pandemic, Bledsoe said.

“(The loan) was very helpful; we are grateful for the support, ”he told MTN News. “I think everyone we serve in all of these communities will also be grateful. “

He said the company was working through the approval process to see what part of the loan could be canceled.

Much of this process is handled by the private lenders who approved the loans, Donnelly said.

“If there was a hero in this whole process, I think it’s our Montana lenders and bankers,” he said. “We are a very rural state. … Our banks know our borrowers and vice versa.

However, Donnelly said some “bad actors” certainly exist, trying to get loans they don’t qualify for, and that the SBA’s Office of the Inspector General has investigated possible fraud. Data on the surveys are not yet available, he said.

But Donnelly said he was confident the vast majority of loans went to businesses that badly needed and appreciated the money.

Mabie, the owner of the Helena restaurant and hostel, said without the loans the company would have had to lay off 22 people. Instead, many of those workers stayed – and now have health coverage, he said.

Additionally, the company has hired more people and invested in additional projects, which appear to be paying off as the tourism economy rebounds, he said.

“It was a bit of a gamble and a doubling, but we’re glad we did it now as we have a fully trained staff and we continue to hire, all thanks to the PPP money,” Mabie said. . .

Mabie’s business also secured an emergency disaster loan, which has gone to more than 10,000 Montana businesses.

Next week: Plans to strengthen Montana’s access to high speed Internet service.


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Kristina McManus

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