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North Dakota companies get $1.7B in government virus loans

North Dakota companies get $1.7B in government virus loans

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BISMARCK, N.D. — A foundation that supports North Dakota's biggest tourist attraction and Gov. Doug Burgum's real estate development firm were among hundreds of thousands of businesses and nonprofits across the country to get loans from the Treasury Department's Payroll Protection Program.

The government this week identified some 650,000 mostly small businesses and nonprofits that applied for taxpayer money from a program designed to soften job losses due to the coronavirus.

In North Dakota, more than 19,700 businesses got more than $1.7 billion in federal aid that included applicants - from farmers and religious and tribal organizations to health care and energy groups. The bulk of the loans went to businesses that got loans of $150,000 or less. More than 2,100 businesses got loans of $150,000 or more, including more than 300 that got loans exceeding $1 million, data show.

Among the more notable applicants was Kilbourne Group, which Burgum founded in 1996.

Adrienne Olson, a spokeswoman for the Fargo real estate development group, said in an email that the firm was approved for $558,000 to temporarily cover payroll for 27 employees.

Olson said the first-term Republican governor Burgum "has withdrawn from any managerial role in Kilbourne Group and is not involved in daily operations."

Shelley Lenz, Burgum's Democratic opponent in November, also is listed in Treasury data as receiving between $150,000 and $350,000 for her veterinary clinics in Killdeer and Dickinson.

Lenz said she received $180,000 that helped that her business through the pandemic without laying off any of her 20 employees or cutting their benefits.

"It was super important," Lenz said of the money.

Some Democrats have criticized Burgum's real estate development company for accepting the money but Lenz called that "misguided criticism."

"Without protecting your employees, you would have no business," she said

Many of her employees have spouses who have been laid off with the downturn in production in western North Dakota's oil patch.

"A lot of my employees have husbands who lost their jobs and this helps keep people in the state," she said.

The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, which supports the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and surrounding areas, was listed in Treasury data as receiving between $350,000 and $1 million.

Former Gov. Ed Schafer, who served from 1992 to 2000, heads the foundation and did not immediately return telephone calls for comment Thursday.

Fargo GOP Sen. Jim Roers, who owns a real estate construction company, was listed as receiving between $350,000 and $1 million. Roers said he did not know the precise sum but the money likely saved 60 of the 225 jobs at his company.

About 90% of the money was used for payroll, and the remainder for business overhead, such as utilities, he said.

"(The coronavirus) hit every business and this was an absolute godsend to us employers," he said. "We did not have to lay off one single person."

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