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At least $130M issued in PPP loans to businesses in Southwest Colorado

Money disbursed to almost 2,000 entities, including Native American tribes
Traffic volume was virtually nonexistent in late March in Durango when Colorado instituted a stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

As businesses struggle to maintain revenue during the pandemic, data released this week by the U.S. Small Business Administration shines a light on which ones received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, set up by the CARES Act, to stay afloat.

Recipients for the loans varied, from La Plata County Humane Society to Durango Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Both local Native American tribes also received loans. The Sky Ute Casino Resort and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe itself received loans between $2 million and $5 million. The Ute Mountain Casino Tribal Enterprise received a loan between $2 million and $5 million, and the Ute Mountain Farm & Ranch Enterprise received a loan between $150,000 and $300,000.

“We’ve already pretty well gone through all of it,” said Rick Scheer, general manager of the Ute Mountain Casino Hotel. The loan was meant to last about eight weeks, and the casino received its funds May 4.

“We’ve had all of our employees, we have a contingent of them working here five days a week,” Scheer said.

In total, more than $58 million in small loans (below $150,000) were doled out to 1,804 businesses in Southwest Colorado. Another $72 million to $170 million in larger loans were awarded to 192 businesses during the initial 2½-month period applications were open.

The SBA data identifies companies by name that received larger loans, but it gives only an approximation of how much was issued. For example, Energy Inspection Services LLC and Southwest Health Services received loans between $5 million and $10 million.

Liz Perry, president and CEO of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, at an archaeological site last year northeast of Cortez.

The loans were initially meant to go to companies that were struggling to make payroll and were forgivable if the majority of the money used by the loan was paid toward employee salaries. The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Montezuma County was one of the organizations that received a PPP loan to help pay employee salaries.

“I promised my employees that it was my No. 1 goal, the health and safety and economic well-being of our staff,” said Liz Perry, president and CEO of the nonprofit. “All of our folks, they are participants in the local economy, and so I hope that all of this is hopefully a rising tide that lifts all ships.”

The center anticipates a revenue shortfall of at least $600,000 as a result of lost contracts with schools and educational groups this year. But a financial restructuring last year to prepare a rainy day fund softened that blow, and the loan has directly paid for eight weeks of salary for the center’s employees, as well as some utility fees.

“We have had zero layoffs, we have had no employees test positive,” Perry said. “We were extremely grateful for the opportunity to apply for the PPP.”

Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said he’s worried some businesses, especially sole proprietorships, may have lacked the connections and resources to obtain one of the loans when the program was available.

“It was really hard for them to fit in that box that was created so quickly,” Walsworth said. “(There were) certainly some hurdles to overcome really around getting the loan to be fully forgiven and turned into a grant.”

Currently, the program requires 60% of the money be used for payroll in order for the loan to be forgiven. Originally, that number was 75%, but concerns from businesses that they couldn’t bring on enough staff in time led to changes passed by Congress.

“A lot of businesses went after that loan because they thought having that loan turn into a grant was a lot easier than they thought it was going to be,” Walsworth said, “and now a lot of them have debt on top of the loss of the income from the past few months.”

PPP applications included questions about race, gender, ethnicity and veteran status of business owners to ensure loans were distributed to communities and businesses equitably. In May, a report prepared by the inspector general of the Small Business Administration warned that loan applications from minority-owned businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic were not being prioritized like they should have been.

The publicly released data on demographics is scarce but seems broadly reflective of that criticism. Of nearly 2,000 businesses that received loans in Southwest Colorado, only about 15% provided full demographic information. Just 65 business owners who identified themselves as female received loans, compared with 221 who identified as male.

The racial breakdown of businesses that received loans in Southwest Colorado shows business owners who received loans were largely white. Of every business owner who reported “Race/Ethnicity,” as the Small Business Administration defined the field, 106 were white, five were Asian, five were Hispanic and five were Native American. One business owner identified as Black or African American.

In guidance provided with the data, the Small Business Administration noted that not all of the loans listed had been automatically granted forgiveness. An ongoing review process will make that determination and will automatically apply to loans over $2 million.

Jacob Wallace is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.

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