Tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations across Montana have benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, a massive federal effort that has routed billions of dollars into subsidized bank loans intended to help small businesses keep workers on payroll during the economic disruption prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Data released this week by the U.S. Small Business Administration provides the first detailed accounting of the businesses aided by the program, indicating that Montana’s loan recipients span nearly the full width of the state’s economic landscape.

Reporter Eric Dietrich discusses this story with Yellowstone Public Radio’s Rachel Cramer

In White Sulphur Springs (population 934), for example, the SBA data indicates that local businesses received 39 loans totalling at least $1.6 million. Among the recipients were Mountainview Medical Center, the local critical access hospital, and Tintina Montana, the company developing the Black Butte copper mine.

Other recipients listed in the small town include two bars, five full-service restaurants, six cattle ranches, a brewery, a hardware store, a pharmacy, a meat processor, two grocery stores, two construction firms and a golf course.The story is similar across Montana, from Troy, where 28 businesses received PPP loans, to economic powerhouse Bozeman, with 2,661, to Ekalaka, with 15. In sum, the 22,785 Montana recipients listed in the data represent roughly a fifth of the state’s 123,000 small businesses.

The Paycheck Protection Program is one of several federal relief efforts created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Donald Trump in March. Eligible businesses and nonprofits, generally with 500 employees or fewer, apply through banks for subsidized loans intended to help them stay on top of payroll, rent and other ongoing expenses through the course of the pandemic. The loans, generally limited to two-and-a-half times monthly payroll, can be converted to grants if businesses maintain their employee headcount.

While the program had been set to close June 30, renewal legislation means the Small Business Administration is accepting new applications with an Aug. 8 deadline. The program was initially allocated $349 billion and received an additional $310 billion from Congress in April. 

As of June 30, nearly 4.9 million loans totalling $521 billion had been issued nationally through the program, the SBA said. The agency’s aggregate figures indicate 23,104 PPP loans totalling $1.8 billion had been approved in Montana, a slightly higher figure than the 22,785 Montana loans listed in the agency’s data release.

While the SBA has previously released aggregate state-level statistics about PPP spending, this week is the first time it has released detailed information about which specific businesses have benefited from the program, which has been criticized for messy administration. Some large publicly traded companies have returned PPP funds amid concern they were dominating a program intended to help small employers. A group of national news outlets filed a freedom of information lawsuit in May seeking detailed information on loans issued through the Paycheck Protection Program and another CARES Act relief effort, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced a separate, state-administered coronavirus relief program for Montana businesses in May. That initiative, the Montana Business Stabilization Grant Program, was funded by $1.25 billion in CARES Act money that was given directly to the state and intended, state officials said, to provide quick relief to businesses that hadn’t been able to secure help from the federal government.

As of June 26, the state business stabilization grant program had paid out $37.6 million, according to data posted on the Montana Department of Commerce website — about 2% of the figure the SBA reports for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The newly released PPP data doesn’t disclose the names or addresses of businesses that received loans of less than $150,000. Businesses that received $150,000 or more are named, but have their loan amounts disclosed only as a broad dollar range, not a specific figure. The data doesn’t indicate which, if any, of the loans are on track to be converted to outright grants.

The Washington Post, which has published a web-based tool letting readers search the SBA data for PPP loans of $1 million or more, reports that it has heard from some businesses saying the data places them in the incorrect loan range. National media outlets have also reported that PPP beneficiaries include the Ayn Rand Institute and the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, which is headed by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

“Today’s release of loan data strikes the appropriate balance of providing the American people with transparency, while protecting sensitive payroll and personal income information of small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Monday.

Mnuchin also said the program had supported 51 million jobs, representing 80% of small business employees nationally.

“The average loan size is approximately $100,000, demonstrating that the program is serving the smallest of businesses,” he said.

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In Montana, 2,186 businesses received loans above the $150,000 threshold for being listed in the SBA data by name. Another 14,484 received loans between $10,000 and just under $150,000, and 6,115 received loans of less than $10,000, the data indicates.

Ten Montana companies received loans of between $5 and $10 million, the data indicates: Community Hospital of Anaconda; the Billings branch of the Avitus Group, a business consulting company; CTA Architects of Billings, which recently rebranded as Cushing Terrell; financial tech company Zoot Enterprises of Bozeman; Dick Anderson Construction of Helena; Kalispell-based Mann Mortgage; health care company Consumer Direct Holdings, of Missoula; Missoula-based Western Montana Mental Health Center; and Sidney Health Center. 

Another 63 Montana companies and nonprofit organizations received loans of between $2 million and $5 million, including Billings-based Kampgrounds of America, Helena’s Carroll College, Bozeman-based Simms Fishing Products, Paws Up Ranch outside Bonner, Fairfield-based 3 Rivers Telephone Cooperative and the REC Silicon plant in Butte.

A number of high-profile Montana businesses also received smaller loans, the data indicates, as did several Montana media outlets, which have struggled with coronavirus-driven advertising declines. The Flathead Beacon, named in the SBA data as Flathead Citizen LLC, received a loan in the $150,000 to $350,000 range, as did the Livingston-based Yellowstone Newspapers chain, which is named in the data as Star Printing Company and received a loan between $350,000 and $1 million. The SBA data also lists 30 other unnamed loan recipients classified as newspaper publishing companies. (That number includes the Montana Free Press, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and received a $30,225 loan.)

In other industries, Don K Chevrolet in Whitefish, owned by Montana Republican Party Chairman Don ‘K’ Kaltschmidt, received a loan in the $1 to $2 million range, and the Bozeman-based American Prairie Reserve received a loan in the $350,000 to $1 million range. Additionally, the Gardiner-based Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious sect that drew national attention in the late 1980s for stockpiling illegal weapons in preparation for a predicted apocalypse, received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million.


Explore the data
A list of the Montana businesses receiving loans of $150,000 or more, annotated by MTFP to include industry information based on each company’s North American Industry Classification System designation, is available as a Google Spreadsheet here. Official data is also available on the U.S. Treasury website.

See something we should check out? Tell data reporter Eric Dietrich at edietrich@montanafreepress.org.

This story is published by Montana Free Press as part of the Long Streets Project, which explores Montana’s economy with in-depth reporting. This work is supported in part by a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, which encourages communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans. Discuss MTFP’s Long Streets work with Lead Reporter Eric Dietrich at edietrich@montanafreepress.org.

Eric Dietrich

Eric Dietrich

Eric Dietrich a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. He has worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org and follow him on Twitter.