As the federal government prepares to open the floodgates on Tuesday on a new wave of money for small businesses, one question is whether Hawaii will receive the same massive windfall it got during the program’s first phase.
The short answer: nobody knows.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” said Mike Minogue, manager of business credit for American Savings Bank. But he added, “We’ve definitely seen interest. But it’s hard to gauge at this point in time.”
Hawaii exceeded expectations by raking in approximately $2.5 billion for some 25,000 companies during the first phase of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. But that first phase rolled out in April, during the height of business lockdowns, when regional economies across the U.S. were largely frozen.
So, when the feds offered what was essentially free money that wouldn’t have to be paid back if used for certain expenses, there was a massive rush by desperate business owners, along with some big national players that, while maybe not desperate, couldn’t pass up the chance for free cash.
Now, the U.S. Treasury is coming back with another $284 billion for the SBA to dole out. But this time, with the economy thawed, some businesses that landed money the first time say they probably don’t need it.
Take the law firm of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon. The firm landed $1 million to $2 million in April through a loan administered by Bank of Hawaii, the SBA reported.
That was important then, says Rick Budar, the firm’s managing director. Courts were closed, and other activities, like depositions and other matters were at a standstill. Deal making in areas like real estate had also slowed down, he said, which meant less work for transactional lawyers.
And with the lawyers not working, support staff also were sitting around.
“In April we were all basically in a state of shock about what was going to happen next,” he said.
In all, 61 law firms got PPP loans the first time around, including other big names like 117-employee Cades Schutte and 94-employee Carlsmith Ball, which each got $1 million to $2 million.
Although the economy isn’t back to normal, it has turned around enough that McCorriston at least probably won’t need another round, Budar said.
“The panic really has gone away,” he said.
For other big recipients, things aren’t as clear. Few industries have been hit harder than restaurants. In Hawaii, the industry shed more than 40,000 jobs when the pandemic hit, as employment dropped to about 30,300 in April from 71,500 in February, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization database of federal indicators.
Opening Hawaii to tourists has helped the industry recover some. As of November, the latest month available, the industry had regained some 16,000 jobs.
But the outlook is still grim. According to Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, 65% of the state’s restaurants don’t expect to survive another six months. And it’s not just restaurants that cater to tourists that are hurting.
One of the largest Hawaii recipients of PPP money the first time around was FCH Enterprises, owner of Zippy’s restaurants. The 1,500-employee chain got the maximum $10 million during the first phase, but the company still had to lay off about 25% of its workforce, said Kevin Yim, vice president of marketing and communications.
Asked last week whether Zippy’s would seek more PPP money, Yim said the company hadn’t decided.
The one thing that is clear, he said, is that the industry can’t afford another surge in cases and the shutdown that would go with it.
“The one thing we’re most afraid of is moving backwards,” he said.
Meanwhile, some companies are not saying anything.
Another big food service PPP recipient was a company called Taco Aloha, which runs the state’s Taco Bell restaurants. The company got a PPP loan valued at $2 million to $5 million to support 429 employees, according to the SBA. Whether Taco Aloha would go for more money, however, isn’t clear.
Kevin Kurihara, the firm’s president and chief executive, did not return calls for comment. Neither did executives with Cades Schutte; United Laundry Services, which received a loan worth $2 million to $5 million; and Pro Park Inc., which got $1 million to $2 million.
Whatever happens in Hawaii, the SBA has taken steps to make sure the program gets money to small businesses that need it most. Although an SBA program, the PPP loans are administered by banks, and, during the first rollout big banks jumped in to administer the bulk of the loans, steer them to their established commercial clients and snag the fees that went along with processing the loans.
Likewise, the program was criticized after reports that dozens of large companies, including major franchises such as Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and Shake Shack burger joints, received millions of dollars in loans meant for small businesses. The backlash resulted in dozens of companies pledging to return the funds.
The SBA is addressing this by rolling out this round of loans in increments. For example, last week, the SBA allowed loans to be made only by small community financial institutions that serve lower-income people and minorities. On Friday, it opened to approximately 5,000 more lenders, including community banks, credit unions, and farm credit institutions.
It will finally open up to banks on Tuesday.
“A second round of PPP could not have come at a better time, and the SBA is making every effort to ensure small businesses have the emergency financial support they need to continue weathering this time of uncertainty,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a statement.