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Local small businesses like the Oregon Symphony got millions for salaries from the federal government, but what happens after eight weeks?

COURTESY: JASON DESOMER - The Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. The Symphony got a $2 million loan via Umpqua Bank, backed by the US Government, to pay salaries for eight weeks. However, unless crowds are allowed to assemble again soon, the Symphony will not be able to go back to performing music. Oregon businesses have done better in the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program loan program.

The Small Business Administration said 31,119 loans to Oregon businesses were approved between April 27 and May 1. The average loan is around $97,000.

One of those small businesses is the Oregon Symphony.

Scott Showalter is the president and CEO of the symphony, which has 76 full-time musicians, performs for more than 200,000 people each year at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and beyond, and has a $22 million annual budget.

The Oregon Symphony applied for and received a loan of $2 million in the first round, through Umpqua Bank.

"The calculus by which PPP is determined includes compensation for effectively two-and-a-half months, and then per a complex set of parameters, some or all of that money can be forgiven at a later date," Showalter said.

COURTESY: JASON QUIGLEY - Scott Showalter, CEO of the Oregon Symphony, says their virtual gala fundraiser was a hit but going back to  playing live is going to be difficult. That requires that the Oregon Symphony has on staff its FTE (full-time employee) equivalent. When the ban on performing came in, they furloughed the entire orchestra and laid off about half of the staff — in total, almost 100 people. Using the $2 million PPP loan, they have rehired those people for eight weeks. After which they likely still won't be performing music, so they will furlough the musicians again in mid-June.

"So, it's a way to keep people employed," Showalter said. "That's the federal government's plan as I understand it, and so that's great. But it doesn't change our dire financial outlook in the long term. Because at our core, what we do is bring people together in a confined space on a frequent basis. And that's precisely what we're not allowed to do. That's the only way we earn money."

Half the symphony's income comes from ticket sales, the rest from donations and grants. A symphony without thousands of ticket holders gathered together to listen to it is not a going concern. The symphony also has programming to bring music to schools, libraries, neighborhoods, correctional facilities, immigration centers, homeless shelters and hospitals.

"Right now, we cannot perform in any of those venues. We can't even perform with one another within social distance. Wind instrument players can't wear a mask over their face," Showalter said.

The symphony has asked the state of Oregon for $5 million in emergency funding to stay alive. "Until we receive financial relief, streaming digital content allows us to remain present in peoples' lives and utilize the talents of our musicians and staff," he said.

The recent virtual gala was a hit because, while watching on a screen is not as fun as a black-tie fest, it did reach more people who could donate.

Applications opened at noon, and Showalter's team submitted at 12:02 p.m., but they quickly got a message that they would need to use another bank or wait for a second round.

"And then Umpqua Bank (stepped in and) championed the application and made it possible to push it through to meet the deadline," he said.

After Umpqua did its due diligence, it applied to the SBA. When the loan was approved, Umpqua wired the $2 million to the symphony.

The symphony plans years ahead, with contracts with musicians, recordings, ticket sales as well as the usual concerns with health care and staffing. It's a massive operation to stop dead in its tracks.

"If we were to completely turn off the lights, and then at some point in the future start up again, it would take a long ramp-up period."


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