Federal data shows Douglas County businesses, organizations got at least $129 million in loans through pandemic program

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World File Photo

The Wakarusa Corporate Centre, 4910 Corporate Centre Drive, is pictured in February 2020. Payless Shoesource has moved its remaining employees at its Topeka headquarters facility to the Wakarusa facility in Lawrence.

Most of the numbers in this pandemic haven’t been that welcome. This one might be: $129 million. Douglas County businesses and nonprofits got at least that much in low-cost, potentially forgivable federal loans.

You might remember this spring when Congress approved the Paycheck Protection Program, which basically allowed businesses with fewer than 500 employees to apply for federally backed loans if they promised to use much of the money to keep employees on the payroll.

Certainly you remember that time. It was when the lights flickered, a smell of smoke filled the air and Google responded to all searches by simply saying “buzz off” because so many small businesses were applying for loans that the Internet seemed like it was on the verge of breaking.

Since that early bottleneck, loans have been processed and, thanks to public pressure, the government has now released some details on which businesses received the loans. You can see a list of the biggest Douglas County loan recipients — every business or organization getting a loan of $150,000 or more — here.

As you peruse that list keep in mind that it probably isn’t a good proxy for determining which businesses have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The loan program wasn’t set up in a way that required a business to be on the edge of collapse, for instance, to qualify for the loan. Instead, I’ve heard businesspeople say that if a business could qualify for a loan, it would be silly for it not to apply. In many cases, a business doesn’t have to pay the money back, and in other cases it only has to pay it back at a 1% interest rate. Most businesses will never get cheaper money than that.

Here are a few takeaways from the Douglas County data:

• 1,914 businesses, entities or nonprofits received a PPP loan in Douglas County. The list shows 205 received loans of $150,000 or more. The rest received loans for less than $150,000.

• The two businesses that received the largest loans in the county show how varied the types of businesses receiving loans are. One sells tractors and the other sells shoes. Heritage Tractor owns John Deere dealerships in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, but its corporate headquarters is in Baldwin City. The other Douglas County company receiving a loan of between $5 million and $10 million is Payless Shoesource. As we reported in February, Payless was in the process of completing a deal to move the remaining employees at its Topeka headquarters facility to Lawrence. That deal has happened, although Payless has said little about it. The PPP loan shows it based at the Wakarusa Corporate Center in west Lawrence. Yes, Payless has closed all of its U.S.-based stores, but the company and its franchisees still have about 700 stores in other countries. The federal data showed the loan was supporting 132 jobs, although it is not clear all of those are in Lawrence.

• On the issue of jobs, some people have questioned whether there are good numbers available on how many jobs the program has saved. The data released by the federal government does include a category for “jobs retained,” but it is unclear exactly how that is measured. For instance, it shows that the Douglas County firms retained 20,164 jobs as a result of the PPP. Not all of those jobs would be based in Douglas County, as some of the firms receiving loans may be based here but have locations elsewhere.

• Twenty-one Douglas County businesses or organization received loans of more than $1 million. Looking through the list, I break it down this way:

* Six manufacturers or industrial firms, including Lawrence Paper Co.; Screen-It-Graphics, also known as Grandstand Glass & Apparel; Allen Press; Horizon PSI; McFarlane Aviation; and Prosoco.

* Three that are involved in selling hard goods: Heritage Tractor, Payless Shoesource and Laird Noller Automotive;

* Three that are in the construction or construction services industry: Bear Communications, which is a major provider of underground and aerial construction work for communication companies; Cutler Repaving; and Gould Evans architects.

* Three social service nonprofit agencies: Cottonwood Inc.; DCCCA; and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

* Two health care providers: Lawrence Anaesthesia, PA; and Lawrence Emergency Medicine Associates.

* One media/entertainment company: Blue Sky Satellite Services, which is the Lawrence-based company that is the authorized Dish satellite television provider.

* One hospitality company, Hulsing Hotels Kansas Inc., which owns the large DoubleTree Hotel at 200 McDonald Drive, among other properties in the state.

* One restaurant company, Lawrence-based Dobski & Associates, which is owns the area McDonald’s franchises.

* One private university, Baker University, in Baldwin City.

• As expected, Lawrence firms got the bulk of the Douglas County money. The breakdown goes like this: Lawrence had 1,697 firms get $113.3 million, for an average of about $67,000 per firm. Baldwin City had 110 firms get $11.7 million, for an average of about $106,000 per firm. Eudora had 85 firms get $3.3 million, for an average of about $39,000 per firm. Lecompton had 22 firms get about $585,000, for an average of about $26,000 per firm.

There are probably other interesting numbers in the federal data. It would be interesting to find out how Douglas County stacked up to some other counties in terms of garnering PPP dollars. One way to measure it is as a percentage of the county’s total gross domestic product. The $129 million total represents about 2.9% of Douglas County’s $4.45 billion of GDP in 2018, the most recent year for which numbers are available. I haven’t yet looked through the totals for other area counties, but as I do, I will report back if the other counties come in well above or below that.

One last thing about the $129 million total for Douglas County: Notice that I said that was the minimum county firms received. That’s because much of the federal data was presented in ranges rather than specific dollar amounts. I used the low end of the range when creating the totals, meaning the true number is likely several million dollars higher.

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