The tiniest of small businesses — mom and pop shops, independent entrepreneurs, sub-20 employee organizations, and the like — have more opportunities with a new Paycheck Protection Program rollout this week.

Per an announcement by the Biden administration earlier this month, over a 14 day period, from Feb. 24 through March 9, the Small Business Administration is limiting loan/grant approvals to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, which would account for 98% of small businesses that fit this category.

Congress approved another renewal of Paycheck Protection Program funding in December, with more than half the original $284 billion figure yet to be claimed. The loan calculation formula has been revised so self-employed entrepreneurs are eligible to get larger loan amounts than before. The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and Central Lakes College’s Small Business Development Center both urge local small businesses to consult financial advisors, speak with their lenders, and look into taking advantage of this new opportunity for funding.

“This period will give the lenders more time to focus on the smaller business cases who may have more paperwork to get together. It might be small businesses. It might be non-employer establishments. They might have one person who really is focused on the business as well as their financial work and trying to get that information to their banker,” said Rebecca Rowe, the director of CLC’s Small Business Development Center. “It’s critical to have these government programs for businesses.”

This has particular ramifications for small businesses in the lakes area. A 2018 study of Crow Wing County indicated the county had a significant concentration of small, low-staffed businesses, of which 54% of employers had only one to four employees, while 88.4% of employers had 19 or fewer on the payroll. Furthermore, Rowe noted that Crow Wing County currently features about 7,400 business entities, with over 70%, or about 5,200, being non-employer businesses or, in other terms, independent entrepreneurs with no employees.

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Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, said every opportunity for emergency funding was welcome during a pandemic, but he admitted he wasn’t sure a new round of PPP funding would have much of an impact. Of the chamber’s membership, more than two thirds have already received PPP funding, Kilian said, and the program has only grown increasingly exclusive since it first started last spring.

The 14 day window for a particular subset of small businesses, Kilian noted, only continues that trend.

“You just aren't seeing the massive run on that program that we saw over the summer,” Kilian said. “I don’t know with this exclusivity window. I think it's a good reminder for small businesses, especially if you're a sole proprietorship, that you should be talking to your lender about your eligibility and taking advantage of the program if you have a need. I think that most people have already done that at this point.”

If they do take the Biden administration up on its offer, Kilian advises small business owners to consult with their lenders, particularly on how net income versus gross income factors into that process. He also pointed to the fact that the state of Minnesota garnishes income taxes from PPP funding, which he deems as unnecessary state interference and an inhibitor to the economic support the PPP is intended to provide.

Downtown Brainerd proprietors like Jeremy Arndt, owner of Dragon Forge Games, and Marie Kirsch, owner of Knotty Pine Bakery, both said they’re thankful for the opportunity and definitely saw a potential need for this kind of targeted aid, but said there’s a good chance they’ll pass. They’ve been able to stay afloat well relative to some other businesses, they said, and they wouldn’t want to hoard funding that’s better used elsewhere.

“We've been pretty fortunate. The last few months put certain aspects of our business on hold. We really had to rely on sales for a while, but, fortunately, our customers took care of us and we were able to remain relatively unscathed,” Arndt said. “I highly suggest people should see if they can qualify for it. I'm planning on talking to our business banker, but at the same time I'm a little bit torn because I feel a lot of other businesses in this area have been hit harder than we have.”

“We've been lucky that we've been able to stay open during pretty much all of the executive orders in some capacity, so we've been doing all right,” Kirsch said. “Local bars and the restaurants are hit a lot harder. That's really impacted their business, especially for downtown Brainerd, so I'm happy to see that they're opening that up to businesses for those folks.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch.