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Cactus Flower co-owner Dena DeJoy, 61 (right) prepares curbside orders on Friday, August 20, 2021, at Cactus Flower in Pueblo. The third-generation owned restaurant employs a trusted veteran staff of more than 50 employees, but still struggles to keep up with customer demand. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’ve worked harder in the past year and a half than I have in my forty years,” DeJoy said. “As a business owner, now I have to ask myself, ‘Where do I cut the flow? Do I cut to-gos if we’re shorthanded? Do I seat less people?’ … I’ve never had an issue where I couldn’t solve a problem.” (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Now we know. 

Denver breakfast chain Snooze made it through the first year of COVID-19 thanks to a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan. Snooze’s loan was forgiven on June 11, according to data provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Same with Intrepid Potash, a Denver fertilizer manufacturer that said it received full forgiveness of its $10 million PPP loan as of June 30. The publicly traded company mentioned it in its second-quarter results earlier this month.

They join nearly half of the 200,000 PPP loans made to Colorado small businesses that had been forgiven as of July 1. About 55% of Colorado’s loan value also had been forgiven. The money provided $15.1 billion to boost the state’s economy and helped out 145,000 businesses survive, with about one-third opting for a second loan this year. Nationwide,11.5 million loans were made to 8.5 million businesses. The SBA said about 59% of the $800 billion in total loans had been forgiven as of Aug. 15. 


Colorado PPP loans 

  • 194,675 loans were approved
  • 48.3%, or 94,126, were forgiven as of July 1, 2021
  • $15.1 billion in loans were approved
  • 55.8%, or $8.4 billion, were forgiven
  • 145,137 companies approved for a first loan, for a total of $11.1 billion
  • 49,538 companies approved for a second loan, for a total of $4.0 billion
  • 73.6% of $8.2 billion in first loans have been forgiven
  • 9% of the $264.9 million in second loans have been forgiven

The federal loans were meant to keep workers employed and provided about two months of payroll. But it was the lure of 100% forgiveness that attracted millions of applicants. Small and large businesses flooded the PPP system when it opened in April 2020. The initial $349 billion pool was depleted in two weeks. Congress quickly added billions more within weeks and then this year, gave borrowers a chance for a second loan. The SBA, which managed the program, added new rules to maximize support for the smaller companies. 

Not many companies want to talk about their loan or forgiveness, though, especially those that borrowed the $10 million maximum. That includes Ludvik Electric Co in Lakewood, Boston Market and its Boston Market Trust (each approved for $10 million) and the Denver-based Western Sugar Cooperative, which represents sugar beet growers. Few responded to requests for an interview.

“We appreciate you coming to us for the opportunity, but Snooze is unable to comment at this time,” a Snooze spokeswoman said in an email.

 In the latest batch of data provided by the SBA, the agency shared it all — the names of companies, their addresses, the amount of approved loans and whether the loans had been forgiven or paid back. Last year, the SBA withheld key details. It skipped the specific amount for businesses that borrowed $150,000 or more, and it withheld the names of the businesses that borrowed less than $150,000. Not anymore. 

The grand dame of Colfax, Casa Bonita, during golden hour in July 2021. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Now we know that the Casa Bonita restaurant, which temporarily closed for months after COVID-19 restrictions first began and reportedly stopped paying workers, got about 12% of its $777,882 loan forgiven on April 15. Its parent company Summit Family Restaurants had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy nine days earlier, though not before applying for a second loan in February. The second loan, for $1 million, has not been forgiven yet, according to SBA data.

There’s also a large owner-operator of manufactured housing, Impact MHC Management in Cedaredge. Owner Dave Reynolds also cofounded the Mobile Home University, which teaches how to invest in mobile home parks and was ridiculed in a 2019 HBO segment of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver for promoting raising rents because residents are stuck. According to SBA data, Impact MHC’s $4.5 million PPP loan was forgiven in June.

Also on the forgiveness list is Echelon Property Group in Greenwood Village, a property manager for more than 12,000 rental units in Colorado. The company has been battling a years-long lawsuit over excessive late fees. The case, filed by a Denver renter, became a uniting force for tenants-rights groups who pushed for Senate Bill 173’s passage limiting late fees. Echelon received a $3.8 million loan, which was forgiven in June, SBA revealed.

All three companies have not responded to requests for more information. Companies that don’t receive full forgiveness must pay back the loans at the low interest rate of 1%.

>> Search all of Colorado’s PPP approved and forgiven loans.
Note: This is a long list with all 200,000 loans so the site may be slow to load.

It was the smaller businesses that bared their souls.

“We would have absolutely had to shut our doors” without the PPP loan, said Marisa Beaver, founder and co-owner of A Mustard Seed Construction Company in Commerce City. “We wouldn’t have survived.”

In fact, Beaver shared her happy story of a now-growing company. Business was bad at first for the sewer repair company. Nobody wanted to plunk down $10,000 to fix their sewer line during the pandemic, she said. But the phones weren’t quite silent.

“(Callers) were just trying to put a Band-Aid on it,” Beaver said. “But a lot of people were calling for us to do a quick fix.”

Marisa Beaver, right, founder of A Mustard Seed Construction Company in Commerce City, on site with vice president Kara Wasserburger, fixing a pipe burst for the city of Fort Collins City Park project in 2020. The company expanded its business during the pandemic to offer lower-priced services as part of the Sewer Experts. (Photo provided by A Mustard Seed Construction Company)

In late April 2020, A Mustard Seed was approved for a PPP loan for $48,400, or enough to pay her six employees for two months, according to SBA data. That let Beaver use her emergency fund to purchase drain-cleaning equipment and expand into lower-priced services. “It can help out and keep things going — $160 versus $10,000,” she said.

Two months later, she hired two more workers and business grew. It now employs 14 people. In March, the pièce de résistance that made PPPs incredibly popular became reality: A Mustard Seed’s loan was 100% forgiven. 

“I wasn’t really worried as I knew the purpose of this loan was going to be exactly what I got it for: payroll,” she said. But, she added, “It was a little unbelievable.” 

The Colorado Sun’s $212,800 loan was forgiven in February. 

While SBA forgiveness is still in progress and the data has typos and likely errors and possibly cases of fraud, The Colorado Sun analyzed what happened to the $15.1 billion in PPP loans to Colorado companies.

But first, SBA forgiveness lingo

For borrowers based in Colorado, here’s how the loans lined up as of July 1: 

  • 194,675 loans were approved; 25% were second loans
  • 73,491, or 38%, are “paid in full,” which means the borrower paid the money back or paid it partially back and received forgiveness on the rest
  • 117,461, or 60%, are “exemption 4,” which means they received the money but the loan hasn’t been forgiven. The loan could be in the process of forgiveness or could be “charged off,” which means the lender has written it off as a loss because the borrower may have shut down, filed for bankruptcy or died.
  • 3,723, or 1.9%, are “active un-disbursed,” which means the loan was approved but the lender hasn’t reported it disbursed

Paid in full doesn’t mean the loan was forgiven. It can mean the company paid the loan back or repaid some of it and the rest was forgiven. Approximately 415 companies have that status with no forgiveness date.

That includes American Financing Corp., an Aurora-based mortgage company that borrowed $7.3 million but decided to pay it back shortly after receipt because the real estate industry took off like no one could have predicted in a pandemic. 

“Since that time,” Devan Barrett, the company’s vice president of advertising and marketing, said last year, “and with more clarity on our business stability and economic outlook, we have paid back 100% of those funds, retained 100% of our workforce and subsequently, have even provided dozens of new job opportunities for the community.”

More than one bank that reviewed the public PPP data said the SBA’s forgiveness numbers matched up to their own, at least as of July 1. 

“Today the vast majority of paid-in-full loans were fully forgiven,” SBA officials said in a July email.

Errors, fraud and why some loans changed

The SBA’s public data is only as good as what the lenders typed in. Last year, typos and misplaced commas caused some companies to seem like they borrowed millions of dollars. 

But they hadn’t.

For example, Snappy Nails & Spa 9 in Broomfield appeared to have scored a $7.8 million loan for its 14-person staff. Christopher Chavez, a SBA spokesman, confirmed last year that it was a typo. He said a data-entry error likely made by the lender was to blame. Snappy Nails ultimately received a $78,000 loan, which was forgiven in May.

The SBA dealt only with approved loans, not whether the applicant actually accepted it. Lenders could correct the typos when the loans were funded. 

Loan terms also changed after the program launched, including audits that would be done for loans above $2 million. That caused some companies with larger loans to pull back. DMC Global in Broomfield returned its $6.7 million loan about a week after receiving it last year citing “new guidelines and to avoid any further disputes.”

Others saw their initial loans reduced for an unknown reason. They may have decided to take a lower amount because they didn’t need it anymore. Others may have been worried they couldn’t pay a larger amount back. Brigade Energy Services in Denver was initially approved for a $10 million loan, but received $6.5 million. Brigade’s loan was forgiven in June. The company did not respond to questions about the change.

Loans for about 3,900 companies differed from the initial SBA approval. Of those, about 2,085 were funded anywhere from 1 cent to $8.8 million less than they were approved for. About 1,800 had their loans funded at anywhere from 1 cent to $1.6 million more than the approved amount. 

The vast majority, or 187,111 companies, were loaned the amount they requested.

As for fraud and criminal activity, various government agencies hammered away all year to figure out who was cheating the system. In March, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General presented its findings to a congressional subcommittee that $3.6 billion in loans went to “potentially ineligible recipients.”

It also found that a lack of sufficient controls resulted in lenders making 4,260 duplicate PPP loans to borrowers with the same tax identification number, business name or address for a total of $692 million between April 3 and Aug. 9, 2020.

A study of PPP loans released Tuesday by University of Texas at Austin researchers found that more than 15% of the program’s 11.8 million loans seemed suspicious and potentially fraudulent. That included businesses that paid workers significantly more than their industry’s norm, and companies that lacked a state business registration. It also found that many of a larger share of questionable loans were originated by financial technology companies. 

“FinTech loans are more than 3.5 times as likely to be initiated by someone with a criminal background,” as well as lending an inordinately high number of loans in counties where the number of businesses in an industry did not match up to U.S. Census data, the report said. “Few of these loans seem to have been detected by authorities or repaid.”

PPP timeline

March 27, 2020: In the CARES Act, Congress creates the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program to provide small business loans to companies with 500 or fewer employees. To receive 100% forgiveness, borrowers had to spend most of the loan on payroll. 

April 3, 2020: Banks begin accepting applications for “good faith” loans of around 10 weeks of payroll expenses. No collateral required — just a certification that COVID-19 hurt business. One week later, one-third of the money is gone, claimed by many large, multi-million dollar businesses with hundreds of employees.

April 16, 2020: Two weeks in, the program has loaned out all $349 billion. In Colorado, 41,635 businesses were approved for a total of $7.4 billion in PPP loans.

April 27, 2020: PPP reopens for business after Congress adds another $310 billion, but with new rules to focus on the smaller small businesses. Additional restrictions cause some to not apply because they worried the loan wouldn’t be forgiven

Aug. 8, 2020: Even with a six-week extension, the program peters out leaving more than $100 billion still available. In Colorado, 109,170 companies were approved for a total of $10.4 billion.

Jan. 11, 2021: After Congress passes another round of financial relief, PPP is back on with $284 billion available. New restrictions limit loans to businesses with 300 or fewer employees who prove they had a 25% decline in income. It’s also open to those who need a second loan.

May 4, 2021: The program runs out of money several weeks before its May 31 expiration. In this second round, 87,088 Colorado businesses received $4.7 billion. 

In Colorado, 20,503 of the loans made to businesses had an indicator of potential misreporting, said Sam Kruger, one of the coauthors and an assistant professor of finance at the school’s Austin McCombs School of Business. “This is 11.2% of Colorado loans, which is lower than the national average of 17.3%.”

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors and local law enforcement agencies have publicly shared several cases that are being prosecuted. 

There are cases of defendants using forged tax forms and fake companies to apply for loans. Others lied about the number of employees and payroll expenses. Some spent the money buying luxury items. One man used the money to buy a $100,000 Tesla. A man from Miami bought a Lamborghini with his PPP. An ex-New York Jets wide receiver was charged for his role in a scheme to get $24 million in PPP loans.

Arnold & Porter, a law firm that has followed PPP developments closely, set up the CARES Act Fraud Tracker last summer to help its staff and their bank and business customers. They knew from past financial crises “when the government gives out free money, bad actors sometimes see an opportunity,” said Kevin Toomey, a partner based in Washington, D.C. The site lists all the public cases being prosecuted for PPP or other federal pandemic relief fraud. 

As of Aug. 11, there were 336 cases. 

That said, Toomey added, “one thing that I wouldn’t want to get lost is that the program and lenders were successful in delivering billions of dollars of much-needed financial relief to small businesses, and that the overall percentage of fraud in the program appears to be very small.”

He pointed to how large the program was — nearly $800 billion to 8.9 million small businesses. A U.S. Department of Justice report in March said that the agency charged 474 defendants with criminal offenses related to $569 million in COVID-19 pandemic relief fraud. And from his law firm’s work with banking clients to mitigate fraud, Toomey said a portion of those were fraud attempts shut down by the banks before money was paid.

“If you do the math, you’ve got some portion of $569 million that was actually handed out, divided by nearly $800 billion, and that’s your percentage of charged fraudulent loans in this program, which is a fraction of 1%,” he said. “A pretty small subset of the overall program.”

However, he said he knows more investigations are underway and expects more cases to become public.

“Looking at the cases that have been charged today, a lot of them are the low hanging fruit — the simple misuse of loan proceeds where somebody bought a Ferrari or a yacht, or where they represented that they had 300 employees when the company didn’t even exist. It’s easy for the DOJ to bring those actions. I think there probably are more complicated cases with potentially more sophisticated borrowers where it will take more time to put the pieces together. I do think those cases are out there.”

A few Colorado cases that have been publicly announced by federal authorities: 

  • Dr. Francis F. Joseph, 56, of Highlands Ranch, is alleged to have applied for a $179,999 PPP loan on behalf of a medical practice but then transferred the funds to his personal account, according to the U.S. Department of Justice
  • Anthony Zaghab, 52, of Denver, was charged with fraudulently obtaining $700,000 in federal relief loans and unemployment insurance in June by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. He allegedly applied for and received more than $80,000 in PPP loans filed under his name and of family members
  • Russell Foreman and Chandler Simbeck were indicted May 18 on charges of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. The two men applied for SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan allegedly using false information and moving payments to relatives
  • Michael Lain, 56, of Queen Creek, Arizona, pleaded guilty to wire fraud on June 28. Lain made false statements on 70 disaster loan applications funded by the SBA’s Denver Finance Center office. As part of his plea agreement, he must repay the $3.8 million in loan proceeds plus $294,900 that he received as a result of fraudulent PPP applications, according to the Department of Justice

Where the borrowers are

Just like Colorado’s population, most PPPs went to businesses located in the Front Range. But a handful of other counties landed in the top 20 , with the Western Slope’s Mesa County rounding out the Top 10.

For a fuller look of how many loans — and how much funding and forgiveness — in the state’s 64 counties, we’ve crunched the data into a map. The darker the blue, the more loans. Hover on each county to see more details.

Denver-based FirstBank handled the most loans of any bank in Colorado, at 18,694. The next three were national banks based outside the state. 

But for communities outside the Denver-metro area, local banks had the lead, especially in the state’s eastern and western regions. 

On the Western Slope and dominating the 3rd Congressional District, Alpine Bank handled the most loans, at 4,396, followed by Bank of Colorado in Fort Collins, Timberline Bank in Grand Junction, Glacier Bank in Montana and Utah’s Zions Bank, which operates as Vectra in Colorado. A national bank, Wells Fargo, held the No. 7 spot. 

That’s because Alpine Banks have branches in towns from Aspen to Ouray, said Glen Jammaron, president of the Glenwood Springs-based bank. His team kept anxious small business owners updated and called customers the weekend PPP applications finally opened.

“As soon as we got word that we could do it, our guy (called his customer) and said, ‘We’re online, get your application in now. We’ll get you taken care of,’” he said. “In general, I think communities around the country saw that, where the community bankers were really responsive that they would sit down with their borrowers.”

As of July 28, Alpine Bank had 56.5% of its $469 million in PPP loans forgiven. The company made 6,151 loans. 

Banks were paid by the SBA to process the loans. They made at least a 1% origination fee, with higher rates for loans below $2 million. The fee wasn’t part of the customer’s approved loan amount but was added on to the forgiveness amount paid by the SBA. 

For one more perspective, here are the loan numbers by congressional district.

The $5 million-$10 million club

Thirteen companies in Colorado applied and were approved for the maximum Paycheck Protection loan of $10 million. One hundred companies asked for $5 million or more. Most appeared to get what they asked for, according to SBA data.

Publicly-traded Good Times Restaurants was approved for four loans last year totaling $11.6 million. The loans were for the company and three subsidiaries, Bad Daddy’s International, Good Times Drive-Thru and BD of Colorado. In June, the company learned all four were 100% forgiven: $5.2 million for Bad Daddy’s; $3.7 million for BD of Colorado; $2.3 million for the Good Times Drive-Thru; and $546,015 for the parent company.

Good Times at 2095 S. Broadway in Denver. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The program capped loans at $10 million and covered up to 500 employees, which the SBA’s definition of small business allowed for. In some cases, very large businesses qualified for multiple loans as long as each location had no more than 500 workers. Loan amounts were based on 10 weeks of payroll so depending on staff wages, that could be well into the millions of dollars. Companies just needed to certify that COVID-19 was creating uncertain business conditions. 

Goodwill of Colorado was approved this year for a PPP loan and used its $10 million to support 35 programs and 18 specific stores “experiencing post-COVID challenges, particularly extremely high turnover and staffing challenges,” Karla Grazier, president and CEO, said in an email. 

“The loan funds are being allocated to provide payroll and benefits assistance to Goodwill employees and will allow us to continue to provide life-changing programs that impact more than 105,000 Coloradans each year,” she said. “We are optimistic about Colorado’s ability to rebound from the effects of the pandemic.”

Goodwill’s loan hasn’t been forgiven yet.

Of the 100 top loans, two were in rural communities, 30 were in low-to-moderate income communities, 16 were nonprofits and 44 have been forgiven. Only four $10 million loans have been forgiven, as of July 1. 

Larger loans that are not yet forgiven include a $9.8 million loan for The One Group, a Denver firm that operates restaurants STK Steakhouse and Kona Grill; the Golden-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students with a $9.2 million loan; and Peak Vista Community Health Centers in Colorado Springs, which has a $9.4 million loan, according to SBA data.

The smallest small businesses 

In February, a push to include the smallest small businesses — the sole proprietors with one employee — caught the attention of President Joe Biden.

Paycheck Protection loans were always open to sole proprietors. But before February, the maximum loan was meager since it was based on net instead of gross income. After Biden pushed for a change, lenders willing to work with the very small companies did so. In Colorado, twice as many sole proprietors applied for loans this year compared to last year. 

Samantha Wranosky, owner of Samantha B Design in Fort Collins, didn’t think she was eligible for a federal Paycheck Protection loan last year because she’s a sole proprietor. But after seeing her revenues plunge 44% during the pandemic, she applied and received a forgivable loan in February 2021. (Photo provided by Samantha Wranosky)

That would include graphic designer Samantha Wranosky, owner of Samantha B Design in Fort Collins. She applied and received both her loans this year. She missed out on the Biden benefit on the first loan, though. 

“I applied for the second loan because I still have the lower revenue to need it, and was grateful when I realized I could still apply,” Wranosky said. “The additional amount that I qualified for this time was also helpful. Either way, though, I would have applied.”

Her first loan of $8,320 was forgiven June 29.

The paycheck program  morphed over time to purposely include much smaller businesses. At the start, several large companies applying for $10 million loans faced criticism for participating in a small business program. Technically, the SBA classifies companies with no more than 500 employees as small businesses. But larger companies had an advantage with full-time financial teams and legal resources. The first round of the PPPs had an average loan size of $206,000. In 2021, the average PPP loan was $42,000.

The early frenzy caused a lot of confusion. But thanks to extensions of the program, millions more companies received funding they needed to get through. 

Denver clothing company owner Tiffany Liu wasn’t sure if her niche, small business fit the criteria to qualify. Her company, Push + Pole, sells pole dancing apparel and other athletic wear. She is the sole employee and usually makes the bulk of her sales as a traveling vendor, but the events she attends were canceled due to the pandemic.

“I just didn’t think it applied to my business because I think initially it was for businesses that had employees,” Liu said. “That’s kind of what I thought it was like when it first came out.”

Once she found out she qualified, Liu chose a bank that helped her family friends receive a PPP loan last year.

“I only applied with FirstBank, so I don’t know if other banks were more difficult because I have heard (other) banks were just really hard to get loans with,” said Liu, who went on to apply for second loan in March and because of the changes to sole proprietor eligibility, she received double the amount. 

Her first loan, for $3,427, was forgiven on March 30.

The SBA has since provided a portal for small businesses to apply for forgiveness directly from the SBA at

Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, which are mandated to work with underserved communities, stepped up to help the small businesses that may lack traditional financial resources or had access to bank loans.

But CDFIs had to scramble, too. The Colorado Enterprise Fund missed the initial PPP round because the program ran out of money in two weeks. 

The organization got involved in the next round of PPP loans in late April 2020 and within two months, the enterprise fund had handled 412 loans averaging $30,000 a loan. About 75% of its applicants were outside of Denver. And in 2021, they did even more, adjusting the program to give community lenders more priority as well as sole proprietors more benefits. 

“Our (loan total) in 2020 was $18 million and in 2021, we did $35 million, so almost exactly double the amount,”’ Ceyl Prinster, president and CEO of the Colorado Enterprise Fund, said. 

While it’s too early to conclude what the impact was for very small businesses, Prinster said they haven’t seen a “substantial increase in business closures.” 

“A lot of them did get PPP loans either from us or another source,” Prinster said. “I’d say it was pretty successful in helping bridge the gap for businesses when they had to be closed.”

What borrowers look like

The rush to score a forgivable Paycheck Protection loan left many small business owners in underserved communities confused, helpless and without a loan after the program launched in April 2020.

Since the SBA’s definition of a small business included companies with 500 workers, many of the borrowers in the first round were larger small businesses, some with their own teams of accountants, lawyers and administrative staff who could focus on getting a loan. 

Michaela Cox, owner of The Suite Spa in Aurora, was all by herself. She works for herself and has no employees. She considers herself lucky to have received a PPP loan at all. 

As a sole proprietor, she didn’t have an administrative staff to lean on, nor did she face a language barrier as some other business owners of color. She hunted down answers by scouring Facebook and figured she qualified and learned how to apply. Her loan was approved in June 2020, more than two months after she had to close her business in March because of pandemic restrictions. 

“I was told a couple of times that, you know, they only had a certain amount of funding, and they have to divide it up equally,” Cox said. “If they made so much funding (available) for so many businesses, what real percentage was for small Black businesses?”

She falls into the category of businesses that took much longer to get a loan: very small businesses owned by a person of color.

Public data on who borrowed how much shows that the majority of minority business owners who disclosed their race were pushed into later rounds of PPP loans more than eight months after initial business disruptions and stay-at-home orders went into effect in Colorado.  

Of the nearly 3,000 Black business borrowers who disclosed their race, 82% received the loan this year. Approximately 59% of those who claimed Hispanic or Latino as their ethnicity also missed the first rounds of PPP loans but were approved this year.

White business owners who shared their race also had more approvals this year than last year. 

But the vast majority of borrowers, or 81% of Colorado borrowers, did not disclose their race at all. It wasn’t required to get a PPP loan. Most loans where race or ethnicity went “unanswered” were approved in 2020, outnumbering minority business owners 10 to one.

Some have said the question was confusing if there were multiple business owners or it was a corporation. Others, who are business owners of color, don’t remember the question or why they might not have disclosed their race or ethnicity, including Marisa Beaver, founder of A Mustard Seed Construction Company in Commerce City. Beaver said she’s Black, Mexican, Native American and Hispanic

“I don’t remember if (my lender Colorado Enterprise Fund) had that question. It’s been so long,” Beaver said. “Maybe because they already knew I fit that category since I was already an active member, it was excluded in my questionnaire.” 

Marisa Beaver, founder and co-owner of A Mustard Seed Construction Company in Commerce City, used her federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep workers paid even as business dwindled during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that allowed her to tap into savings to invest in new equipment to expand the business into a drain cleaning, a lower-priced service that helped sustain her company. (Photo provided by A Mustard Seed Construction Company)

The reality is there were language barriers, limited banking relationships and cultural differences that often create challenges for minority-owned businesses in underserved communities. Many small businesses didn’t have a relationship with a financial institution to work with them on a PPP loan. And many just did not understand the process, said Berenice Garcia Tellez, vice chair of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County.

“Everything came so fast and all the information was in English, even the public (health) orders. We as a chamber, we needed to step in, learn first and then translate and communicate the information,” Garcia Tellez said.“There was confusion (as to) which papers do you need, you know, profit or loss. Some of these businesses, they’re not used to having these documents like this on file. These minority businesses, or Latino businesses, are their own manager, their own accountant and sometimes, they are old school. They keep their accounting in a notebook.”

Gender, race, veteran status and other demographics was something that the PPP application asked for, but it wasn’t required. Some say that early on, there may have been confusion if there were multiple business owners so whose race do you input? Out of 200,000 loans in Colorado, 81% of applicants did not answer the race question. 

Similar results happened for tracking ethnicity:

  • Hispanic or Latino: 2.89%
  • Not Hispanic or Latino: 20.4%
  • Unanswered/Not Stated: 76.7%

And gender:

  • Female owned: 10.9%
  • Male owned: 22.6%
  • Unanswered: 66.5%

And veterans:

  • Veteran: 2.6%
  • Non-veteran: 25.5%
  • Unanswered: 72.4%

It often was up to the lender to make gathering this data a priority, but even that wasn’t a sure thing.

“We did push hard to get that information before closing but they didn’t necessarily need it to apply or be approved,” said Ceyl Prinster, president and CEO of the Colorado Enterprise Fund. “Our first round was like 40% minority-owned. Women-owned was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, around 20%. … I have a hard time thinking it was so small.” 

Nationwide, about 30% of applicants responded to the race question, with “White” being the highest share of approved loans, and “Black or African American” in second. A larger percentage of applicants shared their gender or veteran status, but those were still in the minority, too.

Small Business Administration data on the demographics of Paycheck Protection Program borrowers was limited because applicants were not required to disclose the information in order to qualify for a loan. (Screenshot)

The data that was available and more comprehensive was about income. PPP loans classified a borrower’s location into “LMI Indicator,” or those in low-to-moderate income communities.

In Colorado, 26.3% of loans were made in LMI communities. That’s similar to the national average of about 23.7%, according to an analysis by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 

Did PPPs do the job to help small business owners in lower-income and minority communities? The anecdotes are mixed with stories reporting about the difficulty minorities had in getting a loan. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleavland concluded this:

“We find evidence that the program did have a broad reach within LMI communities, but that it reached higher-income communities to a greater extent and areas with Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native majorities to a lesser extent,” said the bank’s report.

Sherry Waner, chief development officer for First Southwest Bank in the San Luis Valley, said a big issue for small businesses is access to financial resources. Many banks let only existing customers apply for PPP loans, and sometimes, you had to be a business customer to apply.

First Southwest felt it had a duty to the community as part of its mission as a Community Development Financial Institution. 

“One of the decisions that we made early on with the PPP program was that we were going to open the program up to everyone who applied, not wanting anyone to be left behind or left out, particularly those in the greatest need,” she said. “We saw right away that there was, there was going to be, a need for that and jumped right in and offered it up, basically to anyone who would apply. As long as they were within the state of Colorado.”

First Southwest loaned $99 million to 1,559 small businesses. About 1,000 of them were new customers. The average size loan was $63,000. As of July 23, about 55% have been forgiven. 

They normally fund about 500 loans a year, said Kristy Esquibel, the bank’s lending manager and senior vice president.

Based on available PPP and economic data, here are the federal loans by county based alongside June 2021 unemployment rates and the LMI indicator:

One-third applied for a second PPP loan. Restaurants dominated.

The first Paycheck Protection program helped the Cactus Flower Mexican Restaurant keep its crew, many of whom had been working at the Pueblo restaurant for years. The second one?

That’s helping the 31-year-old city fixture find its new normal, which means keeping some pandemic features and adjusting to new challenges. 

“Knock on wood, I feel like we’re busier now than before, which is a great problem to have, but it’s kind of a problem in a way,” said Hunter DeJoy, the restaurant’s kitchen manager and general manager in training. “We can’t get (enough) workers to keep up with the demand, we can’t get supplies in. It’s just making it so much more difficult than before. I mean it’s awesome. We have a good community. We’re busy and we’re doing great. We’re still able to employ people, but it’s definitely taxing.”

Hunter DeJoy and his aunt, Dena DeJoy, prepare curbside orders on Friday, August 20, 2021, at Cactus Flower in Pueblo. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

It’s not just a second PPP loan but a combination of efforts by industry groups, other government aid and the businesses themselves that have helped many companies survive. The majority of Colorado borrowers, in fact, didn’t ask for a second loan, either because they didn’t need it or felt they were getting help elsewhere. Restaurants, though, dominated Colorado’s share of second PPP loans, according to the latest data provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Nearly 50,000 Colorado companies were approved for a second loan, which became available nearly six months after last year’s program ended. That means only about one-third of the state’s existing PPP borrowers applied a second time. About the same proportion of borrowers applied for a second loan nationwide. The SBA approved 2.9 million second loans to companies that had already received one.

Circumstances were just so different between the first and second loans, said Kishore Kulkarni, professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“Last year was our first time, and very few people questioned whether we should do that because it was an unprecedented economy,” Kulkarni said. “And therefore, those measures were welcomed by many.”

Over time, he said, the country became better prepared to manage the implications of the pandemic. Some companies did better than expected while others just had to figure out how to survive differently since the PPP loans only provided enough to pay workers for two months. He doesn’t think future government assistance will be as plentiful as last year’s. It’s just not sustainable for the economy, he said.  

COVID impacted industries differently, and that played out in which companies applied for a second loan too. Real estate agents offices had the highest number of first loans in Colorado. But even in the weeks after the state’s stay-at-home orders, an unexpected real estate frenzy occurred that pushed up home prices as people fled to the suburbs or mountain communities to sit out the pandemic. 

About 31% of small businesses categorized as real estate agents returned for a second loan. New single-family housing construction companies were the ninth largest category of businesses to receive a first PPP loan. They dropped out of the top 10 in the second loan round, coming in at No. 13.

But several other companies shared reasons why they didn’t apply again.

Last year, the Denver Art Museum received a $3.3 million PPP loan, but after the money ran out at the end of June 2020, it reduced its 360-person staff. The museum never quite fully reopened and is still operating at reduced capacity so visitors must reserve tickets before they visit. The museum did not apply for a second loan because of changes made during the past year, spokesman Andy Sinclair said in an email.

“Although 2020 and 2021 presented significant financial challenges due to closure, limited attendance capacity and no events, cost savings from 2020 early retirements and staffing reductions, as well as reductions in budgets in every museum department helped keep the museum moving,” Sinclair said. “Additionally, ongoing voter support of SCFD (Scientific and Cultural Facilities District Act) funding and being able to reopen to the public at the end of June 2020 – helped the museum manage through these financial challenges.”

The Denver Art Museum’s first PPP loan was forgiven in June.

The Denver Art Museum on July 7, 2020. DAM received millions from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to avoid layoffs, but even after reopening is only seeing 25% of usual ticket sales. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Other companies chose not to apply for a second loan because the process was so complicated the first time around. 

Michaela Cox, owner of The Suite Spa in Aurora, said it took almost two months for her first loan to arrive last year. She’s currently still paying interest on the loan and reluctantly decided not to apply for a second loan this year.

“It takes so long for you to even get it. I didn’t know what my payback status was going to be and I just didn’t want to take out another one,” Cox said. 

Glen Jammaron, president of Alpine Bank in Glenwood Springs, said many of the bank’s PPP customers didn’t ask for a second loan because their business had rebounded. And for its non-PPP loans, Alpine offered customers a second 90-day deferral period. Only 1.6% requested the second deferral.

“We had almost zero,” Jammaron said, “because after (the first) 90 days, they could see where they were going and said, ‘OK, my restaurant’s bounced back.’”

Restaurants had the largest share of second loans in Colorado, even as a new federal program, the Restaurant Revitalization grants, became available in the spring. Approximately 1,763 restaurants in Colorado shared $480 million, according to SBA data. (Search the list of Colorado restaurants.)

Colorado restaurants lost $3 billion last year and they’re still struggling, said Sonia Riggs, Colorado Restaurant Association’s president and CEO.

“Colorado restaurants have been through the worst year and a half in living memory, and while they are beginning to walk the road to pandemic recovery, economists estimate that it will take three to five years at a minimum to get there,” Riggs said in an email. 

In addition to the continued threat of COVID and the spreading delta variant, the industry is experiencing a severe labor shortage, increased food and supply costs and new debt. In a July survey of Colorado restaurants, 67% said they face debt incurred during the pandemic with 57% owing more than $100,000 in new debt.

“To help them fully recover,” she said, “the CRA is advocating for more restaurant-specific grant support, both to pay retention bonuses to incentivize employees to return to work and remain there, and for state grant funding similar to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.” 

Patrons dine at Cactus Flower on Friday, August 20, 2021, in Pueblo. The third-generation owned restaurant employs a trusted veteran staff of more than 50 employees, but still struggles to keep up with customer demand as the pandemic continues. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The Cactus Flower in Pueblo took advantage of two PPP loans and the Restaurant Revitalization fund. While the money certainly helped the long-time restaurant retain most of its staff — it employs about 35 workers, which is down from the 60 before the pandemic — changes made during the peak of the pandemic will probably continue. Last year, the restaurant quickly added curbside food pickup and really got it down to a science, DeJoy said.

“We numbered the parking spaces and made sure people were calling with their numbers. That way we could just run their food out. We streamlined it pretty good,” he said. “As much as I want to get rid of it, but especially with this new delta and everybody being scared … we’ll keep it going because there’s too many elderly customers in our community that still want that and don’t want to come in.” 

Email: Twitter: @taywashington30

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...