JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The PPP Has Been Very Good To North Dakota

Well, my e-mails have sure been interesting since I wrote about the Paycheck Protection Program gifts earlier this week. The first was just after I wrote about Rick Becker’s plastic surgery clinic getting a couple of loans: “Hey, what about his bars and restaurants?!?!”

Oops. I checked. Yes, he is the registered owner of a couple of places in downtown Bismarck, operating under the named Humpback Sally’s LLC. Two “loans.” One in 2020 for $110,000, another in 2021 for $80,000. Now, I don’t begrudge anyone running a bar or restaurant getting access to this money. It’s been a hard run for them. I wonder about the timing, though. Within a couple of weeks of getting that $110,000 in April 2020, Humpback Sally’s announced it was out of business. Take the money and run? And then in 2021, a second loan, even though Humpback Sally’s doesn’t exist anymore? I can only assume that the money went to support his other two bars, the Luft and the Speakeasy. Like I said, it’s been a hard run for them. Still, when Mr. Conservative takes more than a quarter of a million dollars from the government that he rails against daily, it gives one pause.

But he’s not the only conservative, and certainly not the only North Dakota elected official, to take the money, according to my e-mails. Not even the biggest legislator recipient. That honor apparently goes to Fargo State Sen. Jim Roers and his companies, who, it looks like, got more than $1.7 million.

Gov. Doug Burgum’s Kilbourne Group? $1.1 million. Congressman Kelly Armstrong’s dad, Mike? $170,000. (Thank you, son, for approving that program.) Rep. Todd Porter’s Metro Area Ambulance Service? $725,000. A few other legislators got smaller loans, less than $100,000.

But dang, the list of other types of businesses getting these was pretty darned interesting. I even paged through the list myself a bit to see what everyone was finding. Here are some highlights.

Doctors, dentists, and lawyers were big recipients. Especially dentists. The North Dakota Dental Association’s staff did a good job getting the word out to the members: Get to the bank. I swear, just based on the pages I looked at, every dentist in North Dakota got one of the “loans.” I guess that’s understandable — who wanted to go to a dentist last year?

Another interesting revelation, if I might use that word: Lots of churches got on the bandwagon. Everyone from the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, to the Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA, to the Bismarck International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, to the Bismarck District of the Assemblies of God. So much for the separation of church and state. But I guess that is understandable. A lot of people are like me — I’m still avoiding crowds and I still go to Mass on my computer, so I’m not putting $20 dollars a week in the basket. I just send a check from time to time.

Churches weren’t the only group that doesn’t pay taxes but got lots of tax money anyway. Lots of nonprofits and associations got in the game. Some I spotted in my quick perusal of the list: North Dakota High School Activities Association, Northern Lights Council of the Boy Scouts, Burleigh County Council of Aging, Williston and Bismarck State College Foundations, Minot Hockey Boosters, Independent Community Banks of North Dakota and even the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, that bastion of free enterprise and limited government.

Overall, it was an amazing program. I had no idea. I guess I just thought it was a program to keep bars, restaurants and stores open during the pandemic. It was much more than that. The PPP made a total of 51,726 loans in North Dakota, totaling $2.9 billion, an average of $55,936. You can see them all by going to this website and clicking on “North Dakota” and then “search.” That’s a HUGE infusion of cash into our economy in just over the 15 months of the program. I guess I didn’t realize there were that many employers in North Dakota.

Oh, but there’s this. The top industry participating in the program, in terms of numbers of loans, was farmers. More than 18,000 of them participated. But their take was small. Because most of them claimed just one or two employees, their average check was around $20,000.

Noticeable, though was the lack of a lot of little businesses that probably could have used some cash but didn’t have the wherewithal to learn the program or fill out the forms. Like, I couldn’t find my barber on the list, nor the little liquor store over in Arrowhead Plaza, and, I’m guessing, there were a slug of other small businesses that could have used $10,000 last year when no one was walking through their doors. Still, 51,000 is a lot of checks, to a lot of businesses. So in spite of the abusers, it’s a program that worked. Good for us.

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