For many Minnesota businesses, Paycheck Protection Program loans were a saving grace
After years of brewing his own beer at home, Don Anderson, with the support of a childhood friend, wife and daughter, took a leap of faith in 2019 and opened Fat Pants Brewing Co. at Eden Prairie on Thanksgiving week.
Sales in December, the brewery’s first full month of business, exceeded all expectations, leaving Anderson optimistic about the new venture.
His story from there is a familiar one: The coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States, forcing mandatory restrictions and people sheltering at home. The Paycheck Protection Program saved the company.
Fat Pants received two loans of approximately $200,000, covering 25% of his payroll. They were both forgiven.
Minnesota hit a milestone, along with the United States as a whole, with more than 90% of PPP loans forgiven. Overall, businesses based in the state received 228,000 loans worth $16.6 billion.
Fat Pants had its first profitable month in February and an even better March. Now he’s dealing with small business decisions rather than pandemic issues. The brewery has expanded to add more space for live music, large gatherings, and community events like bingo.
Although the Andersons built in a six-month cash cushion in their business plan, they couldn’t have stretched those savings over a pandemic that lasted more than two years.
The PPP loans, arranged through the Old National Bank, “gave us the chance to breathe a little easier,” Anderson said. “For the people who depend on it [place] for a job, they didn’t have to panic.”
Government assistance was not enough for many businesses – from retailers to museums – which did not survive the two years.
At least six children’s museums have closed in the United States, said Louise Dickmeyer, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato. Without two PPP loans, less than $150,000 combined, the Mankato Museum might have made the list.
When stay-at-home orders hit in March 2019, the museum immediately laid off all employees to cut expenses. But with PPP funds, Dickmeyer was able to hire a small number of people to complete construction of a new exhibit, and later even more as it prepared to reopen in October 2020 at 25% capacity.
In 2020, the museum had a total income of $49,000. For 2021, revenues had tripled, but were still well below prior figures. By comparison, in 2019 the museum had revenue of $223,000, Dickmeyer said.
“PPP loans were critical to our ability to stay solvent and stay in business,” she said. The loans, both arranged by Bremer Bank, were “absolutely critical for us”, she said.
After the first quarter of this year, the museum’s revenues are stable enough to fully cover expenses, Dickmeyer said. The museum is operating with nearly half the staff it had before COVID-19, but plans to create jobs over the next three years to support an expansion.
“Things have gotten better,” she said. “We plan to get back to where we were or even surpass that. The future is bright.”
The PPP loan program, enacted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, ended on May 31, 2021. Existing borrowers are eligible to have their loans forgiven if they meet certain criteria ensuring that the funding was used for payroll and other business expenses.
Nationally, more than 11 million loans have been approved for a total of $799.8 billion. Forgiveness was requested for more than 90% of the total loan value of all PPP loans, and 90% of the total PPP loan value was forgiven, in whole or in part, according to the Small Business Administration.
Paying off two PPP loans while trying to keep her business would have been too much for Angel Rogers, the owner of Angel’s Learning Center in Brooklyn Park, a daycare for children ages 6 weeks to 10 years old, to handle.
Enrollment plummeted as parents kept their children at home for months. Rogers used two PPP loans made through the Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) to pay its staff, bills and rent.
After weathering COVID-19, Angel’s Learning Center is back fully staffed with just under 20 employees, and enrollment is back to normal levels, Rogers said.
“I saw what my payments would have been; it would have been difficult,” she said. “I would have been good until I had to start paying back.”
For some Minnesota business owners, PPP loans have not only helped pay employees, but they have also driven businesses to growth.
Mohamed Omer had a growing Mediterranean food truck operation that faltered once downtown employers sent office workers home to work in the spring of 2019. He used the loans to hire employees for develop his hot chicken take-out restaurant.
Omer replaced his food truck dishes with chicken in varying degrees of spiciness and parked his food trucks in residential areas and in front of apartment buildings. He opened a restaurant, Nashville Coop, in St. Paul in September 2020.
Omer is also a MEDA client and has received two PPP loans through the nonprofit. The loans covered 15% of his payroll, he said. Without it, Omer wouldn’t have been able to afford efficient staff who could run his food truck-turned-restaurant business, he said.
“It was difficult to find employees,” Omer said. “To get them back, I had to pay more money. I had to pay incentives.”
Since 2020, Omer has expanded to three food trucks, placed a Nashville Coop inside US Bank Stadium and Target Center, and recently opened a second full restaurant in Rochester, with plans to open a third. in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota campus.
Nashville Coop employs nearly 40 people between its restaurants and food trucks, Omer said.
“Without MEDA’s support, it’s hard to come to this,” Omer said.
In total, MEDA processed 446 PPP loans, and less than 4% were not cancelled.
While helping as many clients navigate the PPP process as possible, MEDA had to secure a PPP loan itself to keep the nonprofit organization going, said chief executive Alfredo Martel.
“A small business owner was not prepared to have to respond to a global pandemic to save his business,” Martel said. “Our customers weren’t prepared for the world to change.”
Initially, the PPP system was designed to last just eight weeks, said Brian McDonald, district manager for the Small Business Administration that includes Minnesota. The support request was off the charts.
“It showed that at first no one knew how long [the COVID-19 effect] was going to last,” he said.
Some of the largest banks operating in the Twin Cities, including US Bank, Bremer and Wells Fargo, processed the loans.
Bremer Bank has processed over 12,000 loans nationwide worth over $2 billion under the two PPP rounds. The salaries of around 218,000 jobs were covered by the money, the bank said.
Wells Fargo nationwide has underwritten loans for 282,000 businesses worth $14 billion and covering the payroll of 1.7 million jobs. In Minnesota, the bank worked with 7,000 small businesses with an average loan size of $42,500 to cover payroll for 38,500 employees, the bank said. Ninety-five percent of those companies have applied for forgiveness, and the SBA has approved more than 98 percent of them.
US Bank was responsible for 174,000 loans nationwide for more than $10.7 billion in approved funding, helping payroll more than a million jobs, a spokesperson said.
The PPP program has dramatically increased the number of banks servicing SBA loans — from 1,500 before the pandemic to more than 5,000, McDonald said.
Nick Jellum, president of Stillwater-based Jellum Law, knows firsthand the influx of new SBA lenders. Jellum Law, a banking and commercial law firm, has specialized in representing SBA lenders for the past two decades, and in 2020 demand for its services has grown to help hundreds of lenders across the country. , including Minnesota-based community and national banks, navigate PPP.
For some lenders and borrowers, many in communities with fewer banks, the PPP was their first involvement in an SBA program, Jellum said.
“Greater lender awareness of the SBA and its various programs is a benefit not only to the lending community, but certainly to the small business community,” he said.
While the mechanics of financing and running a brewery and restaurant were new to Anderson, he knows PPP saved young Fat Pants — and his dream.
“I didn’t want it to fail,” he said.