An early business casualty of the coronavirus pandemic was one that hit Jill Whelan, owner of A Special Touch — Cakes by Carolynn in St. Petersburg, particularly hard: The wedding industry.
“The whole cake industry,” she said. “Birthdays, everything.”
Whelan’s business got two relief loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, one for $20,377 last year, and another for $20,000 in January. She used them to pay bills and salaries for her staff of three.
“We closed down for a month,” she said. “But those PPP loans are the things that saved us. Because if I didn’t have that, we would have had to shut our doors.”
Whelan is hardly alone. Since opening in the spring of 2020, the Paycheck Protection Program has shepherded about $800 billion in largely forgivable relief loans to 8.5 million small businesses and nonprofits.
The program officially closed May 31. And while the totals are incomplete as banks process the final loans, it’s clear that the aid to Florida’s economy was immense.
Over 14 months, banks approved at least $51.2 billion in loans to more than 1 million Sunshine State businesses, according to data compiled by the Small Business Administration through June 1.
In Tampa Bay, at least 161,000 loans worth more than $9.8 billion went to businesses in the eight counties around Tampa Bay — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota, Manatee, Hernando and Citrus — according to an analysis of ZIP code-level data.
Much of the economy has rebounded since the start of the pandemic, and in many cases businesses are doing even better. Without the Paycheck Protection Program, which covered expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities, that may not have been the case.
“I don’t think the recovery would have happened without those monies,” said Michael Kilpatrick, Tampa Bay market president for Centennial Bank, which processed thousands of relief loans. “It gave everybody the impression that the government is willing to stand behind your business, which is the biggest thing.”
While businesses of all sizes benefited, from public corporations to tiny mom-and-pops, bigger companies typically got the most.
More than 92 percent of all Tampa Bay loans were for less than $150,000, indicating the vast number of smaller businesses that got at least some emergency funding. But those businesses got only about 39 percent of the total loan pie.
Larger businesses that asked for more money received 61 percent of Florida Paycheck Protection Program funding, including close to 50 that were approved for between $5 million and $10 million, the most any business could get. That includes Times Holding Company, which operates the Tampa Bay Times and related publications, and received $8.5 million.
At least 25 Florida companies got approved for the maximum loan amount of $10 million in 2020, including Red Lobster, Tijuana Flats, Silver Airways and Stein Mart, which filed for bankruptcy in August.
Five Tampa Bay businesses were approved for loans worth $10 million: JTS Enterprises of Tampa, which operates a chain of local McDonald’s franchises; Florida Medical Clinic in Zephyrhills; Lutheran Services Florida in Tampa; Truecore Behavioral Solutions in Tampa; and Citrus World in Lake Wales.
Not every company kept all the money for which it was approved. Some repaid the loans, even though most companies ultimately were not required to. In the case of Lutheran Services Florida, a nonprofit benefitting underserved children and families, the company has used about half its loan for operations and staffing in child welfare and pre-kindergarten programs, said spokesperson Terri Durdaller. The company’s revenue stream should return to pre-pandemic levels in July, she said, and it plans to return any unused funds.
A spokesperson for Citrus World said the company’s loan helped the company retain employees even as its food service arm lost 90 percent of its revenue. Calls and emails to JTS Enterprises, Florida Medical Clinic and Truecore Behavioral Solutions were not returned.
The government’s “second draw” loans, which became available in January and were capped at $2 million, allowed thousands of businesses to nearly double their initial loan haul from 2020 — including some large ones.
The Florida Aquarium got $1.98 million last year and the same amount this year, while the Clearwater Marine Aquarium got $1.62 million last year and just slightly less in 2021. The Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel got $2.95 million in 2020 and another $2 million in 2021. ZooTampa at Lowry Park got $2.17 million last year and $2 million this year. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts got $2.82 million, then $1.87 million.
Some companies’ second-draw hauls will be factored into their subsequent requests for targeted grants that have not yet been disbursed, such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Shuttered Venue Operator Grants. Companies that got second-draw loans would see that money deducted from their grant allocations.
Bookkeeping measures allowed some corporate umbrella companies to get more.
Last summer, for example, a collection of 10 hotels headquartered at the same Tampa address — all partly owned by Tampa entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel — received $19.8 million. On the second draw, those same hotels were approved for another $10.8 million. (Patel is part of an investment group that has that loaned $15 million to the Times Publishing Company.)
Law firm Morgan and Morgan, headquartered in Orlando, got nine loans worth $18.1 million for its offices around the Southeast, led by $5.5 million for its Tampa office.
A Tampa-based collection of 15 restaurants and businesses tied to Outback Steakhouse co-founders Bob Basham and Chris Sullivan received $10.2 million last year, and $4.9 million this year. And eight corporations operating under the umbrella of the Columbia Restaurant, including affiliate eateries Goody Goody and Ulele, got nearly $6 million in loans last year, and another $3.9 million this year.
For smaller businesses, the impact of the loans depended in part on how much they were eligible to get.
“Everyone that I’ve talked to, they’ve gone after every single thing they could get,” said Lynne Conlan, executive director of the South Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce..
It also included the South Hillsborough Chamber itself. Not-for-profits like chambers of commerce were not initially eligible for last year’s loans. That hurt their bottom line, Conlan said, as some businesses closed and others could no longer afford membership.
In February, the South Hillsborough Chamber got $17,176 — enough to offset some of its losses from canceled luncheons and expos.
“We only have two employees, but we used it for salaries, bills and rent, that kind of thing,” Conlan said. “That has helped us. We never did shut down, the whole time.”
Ana Stout, 38, said her loans helped slightly at her Westchase nail salon, Amour Nails and Spa. She got $6,260 in 2020 and $6,771 this year. But with her rent at about $3,700 per month, and her two salaried employees making about $2,000 per month, the money didn’t go far.
“Six grand is nothing, to be honest with you,” she said. “But something’s better than nothing.”
One long-term effect of the loan program may end up having nothing to do with the money itself. The application and forgiveness processes may have changed the way small businesses thought about their finances and business models, said Centennial Bank’s Kilpatrick. And it opened up new channels of communication between small businesses, their banks and the federal government.
“The positive thing we take from all of this mess is that business owners now are looking at their business from different angles,” Kilpatrick said. “If you already get through that, you can get through anything.”
That’s how it felt at A Special Touch — Cakes by Carolynn. Whelan tightened her budget and turned to making cupcakes instead of wedding cakes. Customers bought $300 gift cards to help get the business through each month.
Between that and her two loans, the company is doing well enough that Whelan decided not to apply for other federal grants now available to businesses like hers. She no longer thinks she needs them.
“lf the weddings that were supposed to be last year are coming this year, plus all the weddings that were planned for this year are coming,” she said. “I just thank God we made it through.”