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Thousands of SWFL businesses saved jobs with government program

David Rowe said he was put on this earth to be a dentist, not an accountant. But, in late March, the Port Charlotte dentist said he found himself in the middle of an accounting nightmare.

The state ordered dental practices could only do emergency procedures. Rowe said he lost half his revenue. But he did not have to layoff any of his 16 employees, thanks in part to a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

MORE: SBA – Paycheck Protection Program

The Small Business Administration reported that more than $500 billion in PPP loans had been distributed across the country. As long as the business can prove it used the money within the rules of the program, the loans will be forgiven and paid off by federal tax dollars.

A database of businesses who participated in the program from the SBA is a who’s who of Southwest Florida businesses.

It includes big law firms like Morgan & Morgan and Farrah & Farrah to lesser known large employers like health services company LeeSar and pharmaceutical benefit administrator Benecard.

Even Algenol, which creates fuel and other products from Algae, took a loan.

“That was the intent,” said Dr. Tom Smythe, a professor of economics and finance at FGCU. “It was meant to be a very widely used by all types of businesses not a particular industry or that kind of thing.”

Smythe said the program is the most successful government program in history because, without it, the nation’s economy might be in turmoil.

“For two months, the government paid people and paid companies not to lay people off,” Smythe said.

But the program also had it’s problems. For example, the South Florida business owner who was arrested after authorities said he used some of the $4 million he borrowed to purchase a Lamborghini.

“It’s a shame really if people can manipulate the system,” said Rowe, who said his practice is back to about 80% of where it was before the pandemic.

The next round of PPP loans has not been authorized by Congress.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would reform the program, so the loans only go to business owners like Rowe that have less than 300 employees.

Rubio’s office did not provide a timeline on when that bill was expected to be voted on by the Senate.

Smythe said he hopes that the federal government does not delay too long.

“I certainly believe there are going to be segments of the workforce that will not come back,” Smythe said.

But, he added, that workers who are still working are likely still working because their employer is generating revenue.

Fort Myers Broadcasting, the company that owns WINK News, was among the businesses that accepted a paycheck protection loan.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
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