East Grand Forks business owner says PPP loan staved off hard decisions

Jim Carlson, owner of A and H Vending Co. , said getting a PPP loan saved him for making more difficult choices about his business. (Adam Kurtz/ Grand forks Herald)

The owner of an East Grand Forks vending company says a loan taken out through the Paycheck Protection Program is seeing his company through the coronavirus pandemic.

James Carlson has owned A and H Vending Co. for nearly 40 years. The company has been around for 60. Carlson said he took out a forgivable PPP loan after his sales plummeted when the pandemic brought business in the region nearly to a halt. The loans came about as a lifeline for small businesses through the CARES Act. He used the money for his employees’ salaries, and has one pay period left before it’s gone, then he can begin the process of loan forgiveness.

“Before the PPP was announced, I was to the point where I didn't know what I was going to do,” Carlson told the Herald. “Percentage-wise, I probably went from 100% to 30% overnight.” His options were bank loans or using his savings to make sure his employees, some of whom have been with the company for 30 years, had a job to come back to.

Carlson isn’t alone. According to Eric Giltner, senior area manager for the SBA, over 19,000 PPP loans have been originated in North Dakota, totaling over $1.75 billion, for an average of $91,000 per loan. In Minnesota, there have been over 93,000 PPP loans adding up to more than $11 billion.

A June 10 report in the Washington Post referred to PPP loans as “a qualified success.” The report noted that three quarters of U.S. small businesses have received the loans, with the construction, manufacturing and health care industries, hard hit by the economic shutdown, taking advantage of them in particular.


The pandemic marks the second time Carlson has needed financial help with his business. The first was after the Greater Grand Forks flood in 1997, which wiped out many of his clients. He took out a Small Business Administration loan to see his company through the aftermath of the flood. He finished paying off that loan three years ago. Carlson likens the situation surrounding the pandemic to that of the flood, only “on steroids.”

“At least you know the water is going to go away,” he said.

Carlson said his business has been slowly picking back up, about to half what it was before the pandemic. He expects that will increase, as companies prepare to bring more employees back to their offices, which should help his vending and “micro-market” operations. Micro-markets operate like self checkout kiosks at supermarkets. He supplies company break rooms with food and drinks, which employees take, scan and pay for while at work.

What comes next is loan forgiveness, something Carlson said he expects will happen, as he used his loan for its intended purpose: Paychecks.

“Had I not gotten the PPP, I don't know what decisions I would have to make,” Carlson said. “Thank God I didn't have to make those decisions.”

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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