Wide Range of South Bend Area Businesses Get Major Paycheck Protection Program Loans
From manufacturers and car dealerships to a chain of Burger King and Chili’s franchises, a wide range of companies were among the top local recipients of federal grant loans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from the US Small Business Administration shows that 10 Michiana employers received Paycheck Protection Program loans between $ 5 million and $ 10 million, the highest category. More than 50 others have received loans of at least $ 2 million, the data shows.
Established by the CARES Act, the $ 2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress in March, PPP loans were designed to help small businesses stay open and keep workers employed during the economic fallout. coronavirus.
The loans – which have a 1% interest rate and a repayment period of up to five years – are forgivable for employers who spend the money on approved salaries and other costs, maintain their workforce, and don’t cut back. wages over 25%.
Of the 10 employers in the region that received the largest number of emergency loans, Elkhart has three: Genesis Products, which manufactures laminate panels and wood components; MORryde International, which manufactures parts for vehicle bodies; and Kem Krest, a supplier of industrial chemicals. Genesis and MORryde both supply the motorhome industry, which largely shut down at the start of the pandemic.
In Mishawaka, loans ranging from $ 5 million to $ 10 million were made to Quality Dining, a franchisee that owns approximately 160 Burger King restaurants and 40 Chili’s restaurants in several states, and to Schurz Communications, a cable and data company in cloud which previously owned newspapers and stations including the South Bend Tribune and the WSBT.
Electrical contractors Robert Henry Corp., based in South Bend, and Arc American, in Wakarusa, received loans in the highest category. Modineer Co., also a metallurgical company in Niles; Bomarko, a Plymouth company that manufactures packaging for first aid products, novelty butter and ice cream; and the Collège Sainte-Marie.
Many of the recipients come from industries that have experienced well-documented setbacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some, like the recreational vehicle industry, have seen factories temporarily idle. Others, such as retail and restaurant business, have seen some businesses shut down for good as sales plummeted from March.
“It was almost overnight that our sales evaporated,” said John Firth, president of Quality Dining. “It was like nothing we have ever seen.”
Firth said business leaders were considering drastic measures, such as closing restaurants and skipping payments to owners and sellers, before PPP loans became available. But government money, he said, helped the company bypass those steps.
“This whole PPP program has come on our radar screen. In the end, we thought it could be really helpful, ”he said. “When we realized that, all the thoughts we had about time off, closing restaurants, firing people, we stopped thinking about it.”
For other companies that have obtained large PPP loans, the effects of the pandemic have been more moderate.
Steve Henry, chairman of Robert Henry Corp., which specializes in construction and maintenance for electric utilities, said business remained strong. Several projects were delayed for a few weeks, Henry said. But the company has never sent workers home, even temporarily, in part because the industry is very busy and these people have reportedly gone to work for other contractors.
Henry said one of the challenges is that customer payments have been slower to arrive, so without the PPP money the company likely would have had to borrow a higher interest loan to meet the payroll. .
“We’re definitely having a profitable year, we’re staying afloat,” Henry said. “To say that we were not injured is an exaggeration. Without this PPP money, we probably would have been more in the bank than we are today. “
Henry said the company received a loan on the “low end” of the $ 5-10 million range.
The details of loans to many of the region’s major recipients are unclear. Of the 14 companies contacted by The Tribune, 11 either declined interview requests or did not respond to requests for comment.
What is the definition of “small”?
At least two local businesses have received multiple PPP loans through separate legal entities under the same parent company, according to government data.
Six different companies owned by Quality Dining have secured separate loans, totaling between $ 15 million and $ 35 million, according to the data. The separate companies are created to manage various groups of Burger King and Chili’s restaurants in several states.
Four different companies in the Gurley Leep group of auto dealers have secured loans totaling between $ 6 million and $ 14 million, according to the data.
Even though the maximum PPP loan is $ 10 million, multiple loans don’t necessarily mean that none of those companies broke the rules, even if the total was over $ 10 million.
This is because the rules of the Small Business Administration allow a single “group of companies” of separate companies with a common owner to earn up to $ 20 million.
And while the government generally defines small businesses as those with 500 or fewer employees, PPP included a few exceptions. For example, restaurant chains with more employees were allowed to take out loans if they did not employ more than 500 people at a single site.
Quality Dining has approximately 9,000 employees. Firth, the chairman, declined to specify the company’s total PPP loan amount, but said it was “a far cry” from the top of the $ 15 million to $ 35 million range shown by government data.
“They wanted companies like ours to take advantage of this program,” Firth said, “so they could get the funding, so the paychecks could be protected, and that’s exactly how it worked. “
In the case of Gurley Leep, the four related companies that took out the loans together employ more than 700 people, according to government data. Two phone messages intended for company representatives were not returned last week.
Nationally, the government faced questions about the PPP program after large companies or highly profitable businesses secured loans that were widely seen as intended for family businesses.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced in late April that the team had received, but later returned, a $ 4.6 million PPP loan. The team, which employs around 300 people, qualified for the program despite being valued at more than $ 4 billion before the coronavirus outbreak. Big restaurant chains such as Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse have also repaid money after being criticized for taking government loans.
Firth said he thought it was a mistake to narrowly define PPP as a “small business” program. Instead, it is a program for workers, he said.
“There’s a lot of talk about ‘small business’ and what ‘small’ is,” Firth said. “I wouldn’t say we’re a small business, I wouldn’t say we’re a big business, I think we’re a mid-size business. But if I work for a two-unit franchisee or a 20-unit franchisee, I’m hopeful and expect my paycheck to be just as protected no matter where I work.