Congressman tours Oak Harbor businesses that received federal relief funds

Second District Con-gressman Rick Larsen visited several Oak Harbor businesses that received federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The representative met Thursday with local business owners and nonprofit leaders who benefited from the Payroll Protection Program.

“The PPP loans are a critical part of supporting small business recovery in the pandemic,” Larsen said. “I’m finding there’s a wide variety of businesses that benefited from PPP loans.”

“The point is the PPP program really seems to have supported a lot of smaller businesses and nonprofits that otherwise could have gone out of business,” he said.

Larsen started his visit with lunch at China City, then toured Technical Services, Inc., Ryan’s House for Youth, and met with members of the Mainstreet Association and Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Larsen said that jobs tied to the leisure, hospitality and construction industries are starting to bounce back after the record high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but manufacturing continues to lag.

Technical Services, Inc. manufactures electronics with a wide variety of applications and was one of the local businesses that suffered heavy losses. During a normal year, the business employs about 200 people.

Abdul Sharif, the CEO for Technical Services, said he had to reduce about 30 percent of his workforce largely because of the rapid decline in the aerospace industry. That decline also led to layoffs at Boeing’s Paine Field operation earlier this year.

With the money provided by the PPP, Sharif said he was able to retain some of his workforce.

“It saved a lot of jobs,” Sharif said.

Sharif said that his company was having difficulty in rehiring employees who were receiving the $600 unemployment relief.

“If we’re doing something for people that have lost their jobs, that’s great,” Sharif said. “But don’t forget about the people that are also trying to keep people employed, because we’re hurting as well.”

Afterward, Larsen toured Oak Harbors Open Air Thursdays in Downtown Oak Harbor and met with several business in that area that received CARES grant money.

“As much as the PPP loans … are helping small businesses, the CARES money could have been used for a variety of things,” Larsen said.

“I’m really pleased the counties and cities have found a way to use those dollars to help small businesses.”

After his visit to Oak Harbor, Larsen headed to Whatcom County. After he has visited those that received relief funding, Larsen said he will be taking what he saw happening in his district back to Washington, D.C., where he said he’ll make an argument for what to do with the unallocated $134 billion in PPP funding.

That’s the amount of funds remaining since the program closed Aug. 8.

“I think the Democratic leadership is willing to negotiate,” Larsen said.

“But we’re not going to negotiate against ourselves and we’re not going to negotiate against the women and men who are being hurt in this economy.”

Larsen added that the Republican-led Senate and Trump White House needed to have a position to facilitate negotiations.

“Otherwise, their position is to let unemployment lapse and let evictions happen and let foreclosures happen, and that’s not my position,” Larsen said.

The U.S. Senate adjourned on Thursday without reaching a deal. It will reconvene in September.