A federal program gave 387 Malheur County businesses around $13.8 million to keep 5,000 jobs against the economic shutdown of the pandemic, federal records show.

The Paycheck Protection Program provided forgivable loans totaling that amount to businesses, averaging $6,000 per job. The loans are forgiven if employers maintained or rehired employees at their existing salary.

Malheur County had 12,000 non-farm jobs in January, and still lost 670 jobs even with the program, according to Oregon Employment Department data.

Every call to the Small Business Development Center at Treasure Valley Community College received for a month was about the loan program, said Director Andrea Testi.

The center helped around 247 businesses apply for the program, said Testi.

“Every single business I talked to, it helped. Is it curing everything? No. But every bit of assistance helped,” said Testi.

For Nyssa Mercantile, a hardware store, the pandemic’s impact on its business was “completely the opposite” of the devastation that businesses have overwhelmingly faced in the last several months, said owner Liz Haun.

After opening in late August 2019 the store’s business suffered in the winter, which Haun said is typical of the hardware industry. It was “a really scary time,” she said, until the pandemic “kind of saved my business.”

“Rather than venture to Nampa or Ontario,” said Haun, many locals decided to stay close to home and give Nyssa Mercantile a try.

The store carried products – Lysol spray, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers – that have been in high demand as a result of the pandemic, but are “basics in a hardware store” she said.

It sold N95 masks, usually intended for painting, welding or tearing out insulation, as well as home improvement products.

Haun said she applied for the federal loan to hire five more employees, which she “desperately needed.”

Without the loan, she said, “I would’ve run ragged myself and my skeleton crew.”

“It was a lifesaver,” she said. “That loan made me able to get the help I needed and get the products that I needed for my community.”

If another round of such federal loans is issued, Haun said she doesn’t think she’d have to apply for one.

“I think it got me through a crazy time and did its job, and I’m extremely, extremely grateful,” said Haun. “I don’t think I’ll need it, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

MoFi, a nonprofit lender with locations in Idaho and Montana, arranged the federal loan to Nyssa Mercantile. The company was “so easy to work with,” said Haun. “I just can’t rave enough about how great they were.”

MoFi helped 15 Malheur County businesses with 53 jobs, totaling $279,000.

“People call me and say, ‘You help me sleep at night,’” said Dave Glaser, MoFi president. MoFi isn’t a bank, Glaser said, but a lender whose mission is to get the capital in the hands of people who are out of the financial mainstream. The nonprofit’s current goal is to get rural communities to thrive. On average, they loaned around $27,000 to each business in Malheur County.

Like Testi, Glaser said businesses continue to struggle even with the help.

The D. L. Evans Bank gave 48 loans at a total of $2 million to help 730 jobs.

“It’s been a tremendous help for these affected businesses,” said J.V. Evans, bank president.

“It did what it was designed to do: keeping jobs in the early stages of the pandemic,” said Evans.

The program was originally intended to help businesses weather two months of economic shutdown, when recovery was expected to be sooner, said Evans. Some companies got that money and used it quick, forcing them to reapply in a second round of funding.

D.L. Evans Bank in Fruitland processed 45 federal applications for Malheur County companies, said Rob Frye, branch manager and vice president.. Some businesses couldn't get their applications processed through their normal banks and looked to another option.

“They were great prospects for us to obtain a relationship with, Frye said. “They were very good companies that the other institutions were not taking care of.”

Adrian businesses took $428,000 for 102 jobs, Vale $1.7 million for 326 jobs, Nyssa $2.3 million for 595 jobs, and Ontario $9.2 million for 2,206 jobs, the records show.

PRIOR REPORTING:

The door opens Monday morning to second round of federal loans that could help Malheur County firms.

Vale tavern owner worries without federal help her businesses could founder

News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin at [email protected] or at 541-235-1005, or reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian at [email protected] or at 503-929-3053.

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