ELLSWORTH — More than 2,200 Hancock County businesses received a total of $92.24 million as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, a measure intended at staving off economic collapse as businesses around the country scaled or shut down due to the pandemic, according to an analysis by The American of recently released federal data.
The average loan amount to a business based in Hancock County was roughly $42,000. The overwhelming majority of the loans — 2,111 of the 2,201, or 96 percent — were for $150,000 or less, with all of those payments accounting for a little more than half of the total funding distributed in the county, or close to $50 million. On the other end of the scale, seven companies, five of which are nonprofits with several hundred employees, received 20 percent of the total funds distributed, totaling nearly $19 million.
The information was released under an order by a judge in Washington who rejected the Small Business Administration’s request to keep it confidential. A group of news organizations sued in June for access to additional information after previously released information contained no data on loans below $150,000 and did not offer specifics on larger loan amounts.
“The weighty public interest in disclosure easily overcomes the far narrower privacy interest of borrowers who collectively received billions of taxpayer dollars in loans,” wrote Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington in his Nov. 5 opinion. The information will also, he added, enable “meaningful evaluation of whether the PPP and [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] program are being operated consistent with applicable legal constraints; whether funds have been distributed fairly, equitably, and devoid of fraud; and whether the programs are achieving their purpose.”
In Hancock County, funds went to businesses large and small, ranging in size from $100 to Three Bags Full Studio LLC in Brooklin to nearly $7 million to Mount Desert Island Hospital with its 420 employees. The top 10 highest loan amounts distributed in the county were:
- Mount Desert Island Hospital, $6,956,300, 420 employees.
- Maine Maritime Academy, $3,858,500, 291 employees.
- Coastal Auto Parts Inc., $2,743,400, 330 employees.
- College of The Atlantic, $1,889,000, 320 employees.
- Downeast Community Partners, $1,269,220, 155 employees.
- Downeast Horizons Inc., $1,066,500, 162 employees.
- Eden Street Trust, $1,047,800, 12 employees.
- Maine Shellfish Co. Inc., $973,200, 76 employees.
- George Stevens Academy, $732,100, 113 employees.
- R.F. Jordan & Sons Construction Inc., $716,600, 58 employees.
Local banks were flooded with applications in the spring, and more than 28,000 businesses statewide ultimately received a loan. But a handful of companies — about 320, just 1 percent of all of the state’s employers that were given a PPP loan — got roughly one-third ($693 million) of the entire funding delivered to the state, according to an analysis of the data by The American.
Mount Desert Island Hospital was also among the top 10 recipients statewide, ranking fifth. Intermed, P.A., a physician-owned medical group in Portland, was the only business in the state to receive the top amount of $10 million to support its 500 employees. Nonprofits, sole proprietors, contractors and self-employed workers were also eligible under program guidelines, although the program did not accept applications from companies with net worths of more than $15 million. Companies were eligible for one loan only, with a $100,000 cap on individual salaries.
News organizations, including The Ellsworth American, also were recipients of loans. The American and its sister paper, the Mount Desert Islander, received a total of $425,275.
Guidance around the loans shifted constantly, and rules that at first required businesses to keep nearly all of their employees in order to have their loan forgiven were amended by Congress to allow many loans to be forgiven even if a business laid off or furloughed employees.
There was also some initial confusion about whether or not fishermen, most of whom are self-employed, would be eligible for the loans. They were, but many at first did not realize that was the case. Eventually, according to an analysis by the Portland Press Herald this summer, 1,358 Maine lobstermen received about $14.9 million in PPP loans, averaging around $10,900 each.
The effect the pandemic will have on the local economy is still unclear. Some local businesses have reported doing better than their dire predictions in the spring. Several local restaurants told The American in mid-October they had been bustling, in part due to take-out. The real estate market in the region has also been booming, as has work at construction companies and boatyards, as well as retailers and guides who cater to those looking to get outside. And visitation to the Mount Desert Island section of Acadia National Park, which supports many local businesses, was up 2.5 percent this August compared to last year, according to the Mount Desert Islander, although the estimated number of visitors in the Schoodic Peninsula section of the park was down by about 17,000 in August, a drop of 25.4 percent. While the unemployment rate in the county as of late November, 4.2 percent, was one of the lowest in the state, that is still double what it was at the same time last year, according to state data.