“It was a godsend.”
That was Durango Harley-Davidson owner Trevor Bird’s reaction to being funded through the Paycheck Protection Program, the $349 billion loan program put in place by the federal government to help small businesses weather COVID-19 closures.
“What this loan did is it allowed everybody we employed, well, they didn’t miss a single paycheck,” he said.
Bird is not alone in getting relief through PPP. On Thursday, the Small Business Administration announced that all $349 billion in PPP funding provided by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act had been exhausted.
Small-business owners, the nation’s chambers of commerce and other economic leaders are pressuring Washington for a second round of funding for the vast majority of small-business owners unable to apply for funds in the first round.
Three weeks ago, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his stay-at-home order, Bird said he had the sorrowful duty of furloughing his employees.
In a high-expense town like Durango, Bird was concerned about his employees’ ability to meet rent, to buy groceries, to feed their children and to pay utilities.
From a business perspective, he was worried his well-trained team members would have to flee Durango, and that would translate to a rocky time just getting the doors back open.
All those fears were eased when he was approved for a PPP loan Monday.
“So I’ve got 12 full-time employees. And I thought, we all thought, they were basically unemployed three weeks ago. I informed them to apply for unemployment,” he said. “But (Friday), every one of my employees is going to get their full paycheck for whatever their salaries are, the equivalent full-time hours even though they weren’t working, right.”
Doug Bennett, CEO of Ballantine Communications Inc., publisher of The Durango Herald and The Journal, said the process of obtaining a PPP loan took two weeks and is providing relief during a period when advertising revenues declined 50%.
“It took so much pressure off us over the next two months to try and figure out how to diversify our business and how to find revenues elsewhere, while not having to lay people off,” he said.
The program is working as designed for BCI, he said, relieving pressure in the business-constrained COVID-19 environment.
“It’s given us a little breathing room to get past the virus hopefully, but then to also work on additional revenue initiatives that can help us coming out of this.”
PPP loans are typically for 2½ times the average monthly payroll. They will be forgiven if 75% of the loan is used on payroll and the remainder for rent, mortgage interest or utilities. Money must be used within two months. Money from the loan not used according to guidelines will have to be paid back.
Brandon Shubert, owner of Stonefish Sushi & More in Cortez, said business conditions left him no choice but to apply for a PPP loan, which he was awarded last week.
“You know, we took a huge hit, a 90% hit in revenue. At the time, we had to lay off our employees. Right now, it’s just me and my wife. We went from gangbusters to damn near nothing,” he said.
Shubert expects to receive his funding next week, and he’ll use a good portion to rehire some employees.
“For almost a month, it’s just been me and my wife every day, and we’d like to take a break,” he said.
Schubert said he has 60 days to use the money for the loan to be forgiven, and his one worry is that he’ll not be able to make that deadline with business remaining sluggish.
“It’s not like we’re going to open back up full-on again. It’s just not gonna happen,” he said.
He estimated it might be months before he has the business to warrant rehiring the 16 employees he laid off.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be feasible, but we will try. But there’s only so much to do,” he said. “We can clean the restaurant up, paint some walls, but right now, there’s not a whole lot of business walking in the front door.”
If businesses are unable to meet criteria for loan forgiveness, any portion not forgiven must be repaid over two years – after a six-month deferral period – at an interest rate of 1%.
For the 13 days PPP issued loans, 41,635 loans were approved in Colorado for a total of $7.39 billion, said Stephen Collier, spokesman for the SBA’s Colorado District Office. Numbers of loans for individual counties were not available.
Business remains tepid at Durango Harley-Davidson, but Bird said he’ll use his newly rehired staff to work remotely – using Google Hangouts and other online tools to manage customer relations.
Technicians are still staffing the garage making motorcycle repairs, and the dealership services motorcycles for the Durango Police Department. But retail sales have basically come to a stop. Durango-Harley Davidson will offer interested shoppers a look at new bikes, but it’s now done by appointment only.
The business, like everyone, is doing a lot more cleaning.
In 2019, Harley-Davidson recognized Bird’s operation as the No. 9 Harley-Davidson dealership in the country.
But with the new reality of COVID-19, Bird said all those traditional business laurels have been put in their proper perspective.
“I’ll be honest, you know, we were recognized as the No. 9 dealership in the country out of 600 dealers in the United States. ... That was a huge accomplishment for us,” he said. “But being able to take care and pay my employees – I’ll be able to pay them through like June 7 – I’m more proud and more grateful for that than winning that (award).”
Bird said applying for the PPP went fairly smoothly.
He completed paperwork for the loan April 10 and was funded three days later.
He has known executives with his business bank, Bank of San Antonio, for years.
“I think this has really demonstrated the importance of having a really good relationship with your bank,” he said. “And I feel really fortunate that I was one of the first ones to get my application in. It was probably a good idea because I heard they ran out of money.”
Eric Eicher, president of Alpine Bank in Durango, said small-business owners should be getting payroll documentation and expense documentation ready to present to banks eligible to participate in the PPP program so they can move quickly if Congress funds a second round.
It is better for small-business owners to wait before going to a bank to begin processing PPP paperwork because the bank will have to deny the loan if no federal PPP funds are available, which is the current state of the program.
But many business leaders across the country expect additional funding will come through in future COVID-19 relief packages.
Depletion of the PPP fund was something bankers had suspected might happen quickly, Eicher said. “Three hundred and forty-nine billion dollars seems like a lot of money until you think about how many small businesses there are throughout the entire country.”
Eicher suspects Congress will eventually re-fund the program.
“I can imagine there’s probably some pressure on all members of Congress. It’s helping out so much. You know, it was passed unanimously before, and I think we’ll see something sooner rather than later,” he said.
Early on, program requirements were constantly changing, creating some frustrations among small-business applicants and bankers, Eicher said. But by the end of the 13-day period when PPP issued loans, the program’s rules had been set and loans were processed smoothly.
If a new round of funding is approved, loan applications should flow efficiently, he said.
“The brilliant thing about the program, is the SBA essentially turned the entire banking system into their employees by allowing us to originate SBA loans directly through them. So, I basically worked for the SBA for a while, putting their loans together for them,” he said.
“I think it was brilliant, and the largest program ever launched by the SBA in the shortest amount of time.”