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Minot employers see $144 million in PPP aid

Program pumps $144 million into local businesses

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot’s Main Street businesses are among those in the city looking for ways to navigate a pandemic, and some have relied on the federal Paycheck Protection Program to retain their employees in 2020 during the economic slowdown.

Minot employers are taking a close look at a second round of a federal Paycheck Protection Program that already has released about $144 million locally to preserve jobs.

“It certainly helped us to keep the three employees we have at the shop here employed,” Artmain owner Beth Kjelson said. “There’s no question in my mind that we probably wouldn’t have made it if we hadn’t had it.”

The Paycheck Protection Program offered loans that were forgivable to businesses during a COVID-19 pandemic that saw forced business closures, layoffs and major economic changes. More than 1,200 Minot businesses took advantage of the PPP, according to government data. Another 33 businesses in Burlington, 18 in Surrey and two Minot Air Force Base entities also participated.

Eligible applicants included not just storefronts, bars and restaurants but churches, child-care centers, farms, health providers and nonprofit organizations.

Roger Reich, executive director at Minot Commission on Aging, said his organization will be looking to see if it qualifies for this year’s new round of forgivable loans as it did for the first round.

“If it works for us, we would absolutely take advantage of it again,” Reich said. The commission’s first round went smoothly.

“Our bank walked us right through it,” Reich said.

Without the PPP, maintaining employment would have been difficult due to the uncertainty everyone was experiencing at the start of the pandemic, Reich said. Having the PPP was a relief, he said.

“It did help us a lot because we were able to keep everybody on staff. We were able to protect our payroll and protect our employees,” he said. “The last thing we wanted to do is lay everybody off during a pandemic.”

Kjelson said the PPP wasn’t without problems as it rolled out, but overall, it was fairly easy to apply with the help of Artmain’s accountant and bank. Having good records going into the program and maintaining good records throughout the program also helped ease the way, she said.

The money enabled Artmain to utilize employees in cleaning, painting and other tasks during the time when the store was closed due to the pandemic. Artmain was able to draw on the help of those employees in repositioning the store to open safely.

Because many people remain cautious regarding COVID-19, the economy hasn’t entirely rebounded, making another PPP round potentially beneficial for Artmain if the program rules end up being workable for the business, Kjelson added.

She said she is aware of businesses that didn’t apply the first round, though, because it was a loan program, with conversion to a grant not guaranteed. Newer businesses that couldn’t afford additional loans ended up missing out, and that has left many failing or at least struggling, she said.

Becky Perry-Domres, Premier Movement owner, said the PPP was based on the records from the two-year-old fitness business’s first year, which was a building year, so the program’s benefits weren’t as strong as they would have been for a more established business. But it was easy to apply and Premier Movement hopes to participate in the second round, she said.

Zach Burdick, vice president of commercial lending with First Western Bank & Trust, said there were PPP challenges on the front end because it was a new program facing an initial rush of applications from businesses fearing funds could run out. The Small Business Administration also was making adjustments to the program even as it rolled out.

“One of the challenges was just trying to be as flexible as you could because there was always going to be little changes here and there. But once we settled into what the details of the program were and what information needed to be provided, it went a lot smoother,” Burdick said. “Once we got through the initial first two or three days of the program, we kind of settled into a rhythm. Customers got used to what information we needed from them and it went a lot smoother from there.”

Burdick said he worked with many employers who had real concerns about not being able to keep their staff.

“When this program was released initially, there was a healthy fear that we didn’t know what tomorrow looked like from an economic perspective. So, pretty much everyone that ran a business that we worked with, that provided employees paychecks, were willing to go through this program,” he said.

First Western customers using PPP have been receiving loan forgiveness so far. The majority of participants already have submitted documents to apply for that forgiveness, Burdick said. As the new program opens, he said, businesses are reaching out to learn more, although he doesn’t expect as many will apply.

“One of the requirements of getting a second draw is you need to demonstrate that your company suffered at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts when you compare quarters in 2019 to quarters in 2020. So, some customers are not going to be eligible for this second draw just because, for whatever reason, their companies’ sales numbers didn’t reduce below the threshold.

“That’s really industry specific,” he added. “We have some customers not concerned about that. They’re comfortable with the amount of work that they had last year and going into this year, but some industries were hit harder than others. Obviously, food service sectors, hotels, things like that – this is a definite need for companies like that, for sure,” Burdick said.

He expects applying in the second round to be an easy process, though, for those who qualify.

“We already went through one round. We have a good system in place. There’s less requirements for additional information this round so it should go a lot more efficiently,” he said.

PPP adds up in Minot

Paycheck Protection Program payments in Minot ranged from $6 million for a 479-employee company to $284 for a single-employee home business.

The top recipients were Nored (farm implement), $6.17 million; Apple Core Enterprises (restaurants), $4.55 million; Minot Vocational Adjustment Workshop (employment) $3.39 million; Dakota Boys & Girls Ranch (therapeutic services for youth), $3.06 million; Westlie Motor Co. (automotive), $2.35 million; CMTM Holdings (furniture), $1.19 million; Dakota Drive (restaurants), $2.17 million; and Shanco (energy services), $2 million.

In some cases, a portion of payments went to support employee wages outside Minot – although often in North Dakota – as large, multi-location employers sought to retain employees throughout their companies or organizations.

The top recipient with headquarters in the state was the Grand Forks-based Edgewood, a senior living operation with 500 employees across multiple locations, including Minot. It received $10 million.

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