The COVID-19 era has put a financial strain on businesses across the country, with company leaders scrambling to come up with funds to cover the cost of operations, including paying employees. One major source of funding for companies – including several in Northern Arizona – has been the United States Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program. On Sept. 9, two SBA officials visited several Flagstaff recipients of SBA funding to follow up on the effectiveness and potential future direction of the program.
The Paycheck Protection Program provides loans to incentivize businesses to keep their employees on the payroll. If certain requirements are met, these loans may be forgiven. Through more than five million loans, the program has thus far supplied some $500 billion countrywide. More than $100 billion is still available, and if Congress approves further spending, that money will be available for additional businesses.
“It is not an overstatement to say this is the most consequential economic rescue recovery package that Congress has ever done,” said SBA National Director for Rural Affairs Dan Nordberg.
Mike Vallante, SBA’s associate administrator for the Office of Field Operations joined Nordberg on the Flagstaff tour. According to a statement they released afterward, more than 11,000 businesses in Arizona have received a total of $7 billion, saving some 616,000 jobs. “These funds were pivotal to local economies, made sure families continued to receive paychecks and kept hometown businesses afloat,” said Vallante.
The two men toured a diverse quartet of businesses, including Lowell Observatory, Aspen Veterinary Clinic, Northland-Rural Therapy Associates and Proper Meats and Provisions. They stated, “In Flagstaff, we were reminded that so much good is happening despite the immense challenges around us. People are giving back to the community. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Companies are going the extra mile. Yes, times are tough, but by investing in local businesses, we’re truly building a foundation for a stronger tomorrow.”
Funding to Lowell Observatory provided 11 weeks of payroll for all 116 employees, which enabled the observatory to retain everyone, even part-time employees, without a single furlough. With Lowell’s public program closed to regular tours, educators have had the time to fulfill a longtime goal of developing new virtual programming, which includes interactive presentations, stargazing and telescope viewing.
“This funding allowed us to pivot and diversify our outreach programs in particular in response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall. “As a result, these programs will be even stronger and better once we are fully re-opened.”
Nordberg explained how the observatory’s efforts benefit people far beyond Mars Hill. “Businesses and organizations like the Lowell Observatory are economic engines for rural communities and often help shape the cultural identity of the towns they serve,” he said. “It was a privilege to visit and hear how the Paycheck Protection Program empowered the observatory to retain their staff and continue providing cutting-edge research and resources for the global science community during this unique time.”
“We enjoyed the opportunity to show Dan and Mike the campus and to discuss the current and future landscape as the SBA sees it, and we appreciate their help in keeping our mission going,” said Hall.
Vallante and Nordberg summarized their Flagstaff visit: “We are profoundly grateful to your local business community for hosting us last week. Together, we’ll continue empowering Arizona entrepreneurs to serve their hometowns and pursue their American Dream.” FBN
By Kevin Schinder, FBN