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Behind the Scenes of the Paycheck Protection Program

(Pictured L-R: Kevin Binger, Tim Heffernan & Chris Valentine)

by Kevin Binger, senior vice president, Cassidy & Associates

The Paycheck Protection Program, Congress’ signature assistance program for small businesses, has been a critical lifeline for the live events industry this year. The PPP’s forgivable loans have helped countless small businesses that manage tradeshows and conferences keep their lights on and employees on the payroll.

However, with the end of the 24-week period to spend loan funds rapidly approaching, and with almost every major event cancelled through the end of the year, the industry still faces major challenges. To make it through to the point in 2021 that industry events re-convene, a second round of PPP loans is badly needed.

Congress is now working (slowly) on a fourth coronavirus relief package. With illnesses spiking in many parts of the country, there are lots of needs and competing priorities. In this environment, the old adage that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” has never been more accurate.

Here’s one thing that government relations professionals know very well: nothing gets the attention of a Congressman or Senator better than a compelling story delivered by a sympathetic hometown constituent. But creating that personal connection with a House or Senate office in the COVID era has been a unique challenge. With a little creativity and initiative, we are step by step finding a way.

While some of our industry associations have banded together to get the message out, individual companies have also stepped up to the plate. A great case study is Massachusetts-based T3 Expo. CEO Chris Valentine had a strong pipeline of business and a talented core of employees before the COVID-19 crisis struck. With event after event cancelled and tough decisions looming, he took out a PPP loan, tightened his belt and decided to engage with Congress.

With a little guidance from their government relations team at Cassidy, T3 Expo mounted a campaign for more flexible loan forgiveness rules and a second round of loans. They took it step-by-step:

  • Mapping out their “political footprint” (the locations where they stage shows, maintain offices and employ people)
  • Fine tuning their message to get across the most important points in a 15-minute elevator pitch
  • Lining up Zoom meetings and conference calls with House and Senate offices (focusing on the sweet spot of Small Business Committee members from their key states)
  • Following up with letters and e-mails as new proposals emerged)

Along the way, other industry partners joined the effort to expand our reach. We were joined by companies like Tradeshow Supply, Audie Expo, Willwork Global Event Services and Mountain View Staging.

Working together, we have amplified the important messages offered by trade groups like Go Live Together and EACA. We have mounted a sustained drumbeat on the importance of our sector to the U.S. economy:

  • The events industry directly employs about 2.8 million people
  • The industry indirectly supports 6.6 million jobs
  • The industry adds $885 billion to U.S. GDP every year
  • We produce $117 billion in federal, state and local taxes annually
  • 80 percent of our companies are small businesses
  • A high percentage of the workers who help stage live events are blue-collar union workers.

Some of our key requests—to make the original PPP program more effective—were incorporated in the PPP Flexibility Act that Congress passed in June:

  • Expanding the covered period to use loan funds to six months
  • Relaxing the rule that 75 percent of the funds had to be used on payroll
  • Creating a “safe harbor” for businesses that could show they have been directly impacted by COVID-related business restrictions

Today, we are actively pushing, along with several small business associations, for legislation creating a second round of forgivable loans. Bipartisan legislation has been produced by the Senate Small Business Committee to allow “second-draw PPP loans.” The outlines of this program include:

  • A second PPP loan of up to $2 million could be taken
  • Businesses with fewer than 300 employees would be eligible
  • Eligible businesses must show that their revenues have declined by at least 35 percent
  • The list of forgivable expenses is broadened to include PPE expenditures, supplier costs and operational expenditures like cloud services and software.

As of this writing, Congress was still in the thick of negotiations over the broad outline of this fourth and probably final economic support package. Negotiators have been struggling to bridge the gap on funding for state and local governments, schools, health-care providers and other critical needs. However, thanks to the concerted efforts of industry associations and forward-leaning companies like T3 Expo, there appears to be bipartisan support in the House and Senate for the second-draw PPP loans.

In 20 years working in Congress and 17 working in government relations, I have rarely seen Congress react so swiftly and decisively to an emerging crisis. The PPP program funneled more than $500 billion to 5 million small businesses. The Senate and House Small Business Committees deserve enormous credit for creating this program. So does the Small Business Administration. Despite a few early hiccups, they processed an enormous amount of money in a matter of weeks. In the process, they saved millions of jobs.

The live events industry has a clear path to recovery in 2021. What the hundreds of small businesses that stage events need is a bridge to get them from the end of the PPP-covered loan period in October to the resumption of tradeshows and conferences in 2021.  Thanks to a unified effort of big associations providing high-level air cover, and small companies like T3 engaging in retail “door-to-door” advocacy, we are close to getting just that.

Kevin Binger is a senior vice president at Cassidy & Associates, and a former long-time Congressional aide.  Cassidy & Associates is one of the leading bipartisan government relations firms in Washington D.C. As advocates and strategic advisors, they educate and empower federal decision makers with the facts, insights and strategies to make well-informed decisions that will advance their clients’ business goals. For more info, visit www.cassidy.com

This story originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. issue of Exhibit City News, p. 24. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_sept-oct_2020


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