So far, more than 2,000 El Paso businesses of all sizes and structures have received aid through the government program designed to help keep businesses and nonprofits afloat in the face of a global pandemic and forced closures.

Nearly 900 businesses in El Paso County received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans of at least $150,000. The names of those companies were made public last week by the Small Business Administration, which runs the program.

The SBA also released a list of employers that received PPP loans of up to $150,000 but did not release the names of the organizations that received that money. About 1,200 El Paso businesses received PPP loans under $150,000, totaling about $114.6 million in funding, according to an El Paso Inc. analysis of the data.

“We believe it’s the duty of a leading community bank to step forward and provide capital and human resources and team up with the SBA to make this happen,” said David Osborn, president and COO of WestStar Bank, which handled the majority of the top loans and worked to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in PPP loans for small businesses.

The top listed recipients of PPP loan money in El Paso were Pizza Properties, which owns local Peter Piper Pizza and Applebee’s chains, and Rudolph Chevrolet. They each received PPP loans of between $5 million and $10 million, according to the data.

The data released by the Small Business Administration did not include specific loan amounts, but rather loan ranges.

But some business owners say the loan amount ranges released by the SBA last week are inaccurate, and instead show the requested amount and not what was actually granted.

Dennis Neessen, owner and operator of the Rudolph car dealerships, said the four parts of the operation received a total of about $3.2 million.

“It allowed us to keep every single employee employed and nobody’s hours were cut,” Neessen said. “Everyone at our dealerships kept their jobs. The availability of those loans let us do that. We got to stay open, and we’re very fortunate because so many can’t.”

The four Rudolph dealerships – Chevrolet, Honda, Mazda and Volkswagen – and the body shop have a total of 489 employees, according to the dealership.

The government relied on banks to be the conduits of the $670 billion rescue program, which provides forgivable loans to companies that have 500 or fewer employees and meet certain requirements.

“In releasing PPP loan data to the public, SBA is maintaining a balance between providing transparency to American taxpayers and protecting small businesses’ confidential business information, such as payroll, and personally identifiable information,” the SBA said in a statement.

The other top eight PPP loan recipients include industrial companies, trade schools and a fast food restaurant chain.

The area’s biggest local bank, WestStar Bank, handled seven out of the top 10 PPP loans, the data show.

WestStar has processed over 1,700 loans, totaling over $263 million for existing and prospective clients in El Paso and Las Cruces, Osborn said. He added that through the bank’s calculations, the loans were able to help retain 41,000 jobs.

There have been two rounds of PPP loans. The first round of aid made about $350 billion in loan money available to small businesses. That money went fast, and a second round of about $310 billion was released.

The deadline to apply for a PPP loan from the second phase of aid is Aug. 8, and Osborn said there’s about $140 billion left.

Osborn added he doesn’t expect that $140 billion to be fully depleted, and that most qualifying businesses have already received their share of the aid.

“None of us expect that to be used, because these loans now are just trickling in,” Osborn said.

Pizza Properties, the top listed PPP loan recipient in El Paso, operates 64 restaurants in El Paso, including 48 Peter Piper Pizza locations, Applebee’s and Boss Chicken.

John Hjalmquist, president of Pizza Properties, said in an emailed statement that the company had to furlough 75% of its staff when the COVID-19 pandemic and forced closures hit.

He said the funding Pizza Properties received meant the company was able to retain their salaried workforce and recall some of their furloughed employees, and that the loan has fueled additional hiring.

“It provided the lifeline businesses like ours needed, playing an integral role in protecting our businesses through the crisis and, more importantly, doing exactly what the program was intended to do: save jobs,” Hjalmquist said in an email.

The PPP loans are not a one-and-done affair, and business leaders are still keeping tabs on what comes next in terms of repayment or forgiveness.

Osborn said WestStar’s SBA and PPP loan officials are keeping a close eye on what’s coming out of Washington, and said forms for the process are starting to come together but are not quite ready.

“We’re hoping over the next few weeks that it’ll become clear what those forms will look like and what it’ll take to get loans forgiven,” Osborn said.

Neessen said his car dealerships are also keeping an eye on loan repayment deadlines and requirements but that things are still being changed and nothing is yet final.

In the meantime, he said, car sales and body work at Rudolph are still happening.

“Dealership sales have been very brisk,” Neessen said. “With factories shut down for two months, the inventory has gone down but sales have been brisk, for Mazda, Volkswagen, Chevy and Honda. Service and body shop have been very steady.”

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