Utah’s tourism industry pushed to make critical change to federal small business loan program
A critical change to the terms of the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans that were issued as part of the CARES Act could alleviate a financial burden that some Park City businesses were fearing could have hampered their recovery from the economic shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the deadline for the recipients of the loans to apply for payment forgiveness arrived on Monday, the final version of the law’s language was released by the Treasury Department. To qualify for forgiveness of the loans, businesses must retain their staffing levels, and the language released Monday includes a provision allowing businesses to measure their current head count against what it was during a time period including the summer of 2019.
Previous language mandated businesses compare their employment levels to a fixed period in February and March, a worrisome requirement for many ski industry or seasonal businesses in Park City that staff down in the spring as a matter of course when the ski season ends. The eight-week loan period would have coincided with this decrease in staffing.
The National Ski Areas Association and its constituent state organizations such as Ski Utah helped spearhead the push to make the change at the federal level, according to Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty.
The lobbying effort culminated in a May 13 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin signed by 16 governors of states with ski industries, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, that asked for winter businesses to be protected from being “unfairly penalized” in the absence of a change to the rules similar to one that was implemented for summer businesses.
“Gov. Herbert understands the importance of ensuring that PPP loans are helpful to many different types of businesses, including our ski resorts, which is why he led a multi-governor letter to Secretary Mnuchin and the Small Business Association on behalf of our ski areas,” Gov. Herbert’s office said in a statement. “We’re grateful to the SBA for granting the flexibility we asked for, and hope these loans will make a positive difference for Utah’s winter resorts.”
Kerry Washington, owner of Alpine Ski Properties, said she was glad to see the changes being implemented to make the economic recovery faster in Park City.
“It was great to see this bi-partisan effort to correct a seemingly insurmountable problem,” Washington said in an email. “For ski area lodging businesses like ours, it means we’ve been able to bring back many employees who are thankful and enthusiastic about being back to work in our beautiful town.”
Casey Metzger, chairman-elect of the Park City Chamber/Bureau and owner of Top Shelf Utah, a bartending service, said that the change in the PPP loan forgiveness rules will help ease the burden on many of Park City’s businesses that applied for the loans and weren’t able to sustain their employment numbers due to the seasonal nature of the tourism economy.
“I think it will have a positive effect particularly for the ski resorts,” he said. “Without the ski resorts, we don’t have a lot of people to cater to.”
However, for his part, Metzger said the financial outlook for Top Shelf Utah, which supplies bartenders to large events and social gatherings, remains uncertain. The majority of his seasonal employees, which number around 100 during the winter and 50 during the summer, are part-time workers. He has a management team of eight still on his payroll, and he said he will have to “crunch some numbers” to account for the partial repayment of the PPP loan.
While Park City and Utah have escaped the worst of the coronavirus’ health toll so far, the curtailing of travel and the negative effects on economies worldwide has been a blow to the local and state tourism industries. While Rafferty celebrated the positive news for the winter-focused businesses of Utah, he acknowledged that the ski industry’s counterparts to the south in places such as Moab, which thrive on summer tourism, still face a tough road ahead as the pandemic began shutting down economies just as the spring was beginning. Rafferty said an equivalent event in the Utah ski industry would have been “catastrophic.”
“In the ski industry, with the virus and the timing, this would be the equivalent of shutting down in December,” he said.
As with many aspects of the year 2020, Rafferty’s outlook for the overall impact to Utah tourism and hospitality is unclear.
“Tourism and travel is a $9 million business in Utah,” Rafferty said. “The total cumulative effects are unknown as of yet, so it’ll be hard to get our hands around that.”
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