County administrator estimates more than $120 million in loans distributed so far in community
Federal data indicates that a litany of Bartow County businesses — as well as a few nonprofits and faith-based organizations — have drawn substantial funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) created by the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Indeed, Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson estimates that Bartow businesses and organizations have collectively amassed roughly $120 million in direct PPP loans since spring.
That includes several companies and organizations that have received millions in assistance via the Small Business Administration (SBA) program, which is supported by the United States Department of the Treasury.
One Bartow-based company, Quest Global, Inc. reported receiving between $5 million and $10 million in PPP funding. The allotment was approved on April 5 and is said to have retained 420 jobs for the trucking business.
At least nine Bartow companies reported receiving between $2 million to $5 million in PPP assistance. That includes five Cartersville-based businesses — Aquafil, USA, Inc.; Chemical Products Corp.; Ely Concrete Construction, LLC; Riverbend Construction Services, LLC; and Taylor Transport, Inc. — as well as Rydal’s Kennesaw Transportation, Inc. and White's Surya Carpet, Inc.
Ed Carballo, the SBA’s deputy district director for the state of Georgia, described the fundamentals of the program.
“Originally, it was designed for individuals or small business owners to be able to retain the talent that they had worked so hard to hire and keep those folks on the books,” he told The Daily Tribune News. “If they were able to do that for an eight-week period from the time that the loan was disbursed to them, they would then be able to, at the end of the eight weeks, apply for forgiveness for that loan.”
The original criteria for PPP loans, he said, included a "75/25 rule" stipulating how recipients could spend the money.
“So if they were approved, let’s say, for a $100,000 PPP loan, they would have had to use $75,000 of that to directly pay wages and keep their folks on the books, whether they were open or closed as a result of COVID,” he said.
In that scenario, the remaining $25,000 portion of the loan could be used for non-payroll expenditures. That money, Carballo said, couldn’t be used by businesses to pay off existing debts, but it could be used for expenses like rent, commercial mortgages or utilities.
“Anything required to keep the lights on or the doors open, in theory, would be paid out of that,” he said.
Since the PPP began earlier this year, Carballo said the program has undergone several changes.
“Congress tweaked the program further to drop the 75/25 threshold down to 60/40,” he said. “So small businesses didn’t have to spend 75% of the money to keep their employees on payroll, they only had to meet a 60% threshold in order to apply for the forgiveness.”
Along those same lines, he said the terms of PPP loans have also changed — from two years to five years — while maintaining the same 1% interest rate.
“The bank is the one who actually disburses directly to the borrower under this program,” he continued. “And the bank is also the one who assists the borrower in applying for the forgiveness portion of this — in fact, we just had guidance that came out on it late [Thursday] night, as far as what that would look like or what the process will entail for that.”
OVERSIGHT AND DISTRIBUTIONS
Two Adairsville companies also received somewhere between $2 million and $5 million in PPP aid each.
BGAC, LLC — representing Barnsley Resort — was approved for the funding on April 13, with the federal payout reportedly used to retain 265 jobs. Meanwhile, VMC Specialty Alloys, LLC — more commonly known as Vista Metals — was approved for a PPP payment on April 9, with the federal funding said to have been used to retain 269 jobs.
“I think the wounds of the company from the impact on the airline industry is probably not as visible to a lot of people, or it’s not as appreciated by a lot of folks, given that their product is used by airplane manufacturers, and maybe even some automotive,” said Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Melinda Lemmon. “Both of those industries were severely impacted, so I’m not surprised that Vista — being a tier 1 supplier — was also drastically impacted.”
As for Bartow companies receiving between $1 million to $2 million in PPP funding, White’s Artistic Weavers, LLC was approved for payment on April 10, with the money said to retain 215 jobs.
Two additional businesses in Adairsville — Tai Ping Carpets Americas, Inc. and Amrita Reddy D.M.D., P.C. — each were approved for federal payouts between $1 million and $2 million in April.
However, the address listed for Amrita Reddy’s business in Adairsville — 1031 Gold St. — does not exist. Rather, it appears the actual business is located in Manchester, New Hampshire; according to the SBA, the approved lender is KeyBank National Association, a subsidiary of Cleveland-based KeyCorp.
Without knowing the granular details, Carballo said he couldn’t comment on whether the listing of that particular payout is a simple clerical error or something else entirely.
“There are instances where we have folks who use one address physically for mail and actually operate out of a different physical location,” he said. “Now, if they’re making up a street that doesn’t exist, obviously, that would tend to lend itself to fraud — but I’ve never heard of that particular instance.”
When PPP payouts began, Carballo said that any loan of $2 million or greater triggered an automatic audit.
“Somebody did have to sign for that loan, so whoever that individual is is going to go through a review process,” he said. “If things were found that were inaccurate or misrepresented, then we have the office of inspector general, and they go after folks — both civilly and criminally — for fraud.”
For the most part, Carballo said the burden of oversight falls directly on the banks.
“The lender is the one who submits the application on behalf of the borrower, so in theory, they’re gathering all of this information at the point of intake, anyway,” he said. “In the application itself, the borrower has to self-certify all kinds of information, including what the use of proceeds were. It’s a simple formula, actually … for the forgiveness population, it’s payroll and non-payroll costs.”
That said, Carballo noted that Congressional efforts are underway to reduce that threshold for loans triggering automatic audits to as low as $150,000.
“And if that takes place, in theory, anyone who received above that — whether they were for-profit or not-for-profit — is going to have a closer look taken at their individual circumstance, and make sure that everything that they represented on the way in was true and factual," he said.
Carballo said there is no denying that the program has invited a considerable amount of fraud.
“Unfortunately when the government tries to do a program this large, on this type of scale, with these types of dollars, there’s always going to be people out there who try to take advantage of that,” he said.
Still, he said other companies have rejected the offer for financial assistance outright.
“We had a lot of companies that received much more that returned money,” he said. “We had a few companies that were granted the full amount of $10 million, sat back with the board and discussed it and felt that it wasn’t worth the scrutiny they may be subject to on the backend by actually accepting it.”
At least five Cartersville-based companies reported receiving between $1 million to $2 million in PPP funds, including Bartow Paving Company, Inc.; Doehler North America, Inc; Georgia Bone and Joint Surgeons, P.C.; Innovative Chemical Technologies, Inc.; and Madison Telecommunications, Inc.
Also receiving between $1 million to $2 million in federal assistance was one Cartersville-based nonprofit, Georgia Museums, Inc. The organization — with a portfolio including the Booth Western Art Museum, Tellus Science Museum and the in-construction Savoy Automobile Museum — was approved for the payout on April 12. SBA documents indicate the lender is Iberia Bank, with the money said to preserve 159 jobs.
Companies receiving between $350,000 and $1 million in PPP payouts include Emerson’s LakePoint Services, LLC; Rydal’s Industrial Construction Services, Inc; and Taylorsville’s Woods Fabrication, LLC.
But it isn't just manufacturers and logistics companies reeling in a significant amount of federal assistance. Several Bartow County churches and faith-based organizations, for example, likewise received PPP funding.
“The program has morphed over time and so folks who were not originally eligible or may not have been were then allowed to apply based on what Congress had authorized,” Carballo said.
While the application process is similar, he noted that the underwriting criteria for nonprofits and faith-based organizations may differ from that of for-profit businesses. Ultimately, Carballo said more than 500 financial institutions throughout Georgia — running the gamut from banks to credit unions to community development centers — are PPP participants.
Federal data sets indicate The Cartersville Church of God, Crosspoint City Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church of Cartersville, Inc. were all approved for PPP funding between the amounts of $150,000 to $350,000. The same holds true for Emerson-based Excel Christian Academy, Inc., which was approved for PPP aid on April 9.
Excel representative Jerry Haney said that 100% of the funding the organization received went towards payroll.
“With every aspect of society being affected, it enabled us to continue operations and to work with these families that were negatively impacted with loss of income,” he said of the PPP funding. “So it was a wonderful thing for us to be able to partake of … it helped the school and the parents, the families that make up the community of Excel.”
Speaking with various companies and businesses throughout the community, Lemmon said there are “a lot of folks who could make a good case” for additional rounds of PPP funding.
“There were so many companies that were impacted by all of this, some that had to just shut down completely, and others that significantly slowed down,” she said. “I know that if they reached out for help there was a reason for that, and I have to trust that the powers-that-be handled that appropriately.”
As sizable as that $120 million estimate may be, Olson said that is likely a vast undercount of the actual amount of PPP aid and assistance that has already funneled through Bartow County, considering the local presence of large-scale operations based out of other counties, states and even countries.
“It’s hard to tell how much money came into the community,” he said, “when the business isn’t headquartered here.”