Portman tours Sidney business

SIDNEY — When he returns to Washington, D.C., Sen. Rob Portman is going to tout the success of the Paycheck Protection Program and highlight Shaffer Metal Fab Inc., as one of the companies it benefited.

“I think Shaffer Metal Fab is a model,” the Republican from Cincinnati said. “I’m going to talk about it when I go back to Washington because they had a situation where they wanted to keep their doors open, obviously, but also keep the good employees. And, yet, their sales dropped dramatically because their customers didn’t need the product because they were shut down. And without PPP, they would have had to let a lot of people go.”

Portman visited the Sidney company Monday afternoon to tour its facilities and meet with Shaffer Metal Fab’s leaders. He heard about the company’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke about his hopes for additional government funding to combat the pandemic and the economic stresses it’s caused.

“It will be more targeted,” Portman said of his expectations for upcoming government funding. “It will be companies that are losing money this year as compared to last year. And it will be for smaller businesses, and it will be for lesser amounts.”

The Paycheck Protection Program was part of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act — a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill that Congress passed in March. It promoted employee retention and offered forgivable loans to small businesses that spent the money on expenses such as salaries, mortgages, rent and utilities.

Shaffer Metal Fab received a $430,000 PPP loan through Minster Bank that helped it retain its 38 employees. The company has since added three more employees and is actively hiring.

“That was a critical time for us, and you hate to see a third generation company go through that because of a virus,” Shaffer Metal Fab Vice President Chad Geuy said. “This enabled us to continue to operate and to weather that storm.”

Ryan Shaffer, the president of Shaffer Metal Fab, and Geuy purchased the company on Dec. 31, 2019, from Shaffer’s father, Mike Shaffer, and uncle, Steve Shaffer. The company was doing well, even during the early days of the pandemic, but had a big slowdown in June.

“We were flourishing when these guys just took over,” Sales Manager Skip Murray said. “We had tons in the pipeline, really enough to get us through the June time frame. And then of course June it really started to slow down.”

With the PPP loan, Shaffer Metal Fab was able to keep its employees on the payroll through a tough month. The company then spent some time on cross training, which was valuable when an employee, Ben Smith, had to quarantine for two weeks.

“Two months before that, if Ben would have called, it would have been how are we going to deal with that?” Ryan Shaffer said. “This allowed us to prepare for what’s about to move through.”

Smith’s daughter was exposed to COVID-19 last month while working at a restaurant. Even though she wore a mask while working, she developed a fever and tested positive for COVID-19.

While they never developed symptoms, the Auglaize County Health Department had Smith and his wife quarantine at home for two weeks to help slow the spread of the virus.

“It was nice to have that program to fall back on, not to worry about getting paid while I’m off,” Smith said.

Business at Shaffer Metal Fab — which offers sheet metal fabrication, precision machining, custom powder coating and engineering among its services — has picked back up. Ryan Shaffer doesn’t think the business will need any more government assistance but thinks it could help other small businesses that still are struggling.

“When we did it in March, nobody knew what the economy was going to do,” he said. “We’ve since seen how it helped us maintain our business and keep afloat. I would say restaurants and other companies aren’t as fortunate as the situation we may be in.”

Republicans and Democrats in Washington have proposed additional funding but thus far haven’t agreed on how much should be allocated.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, a $3 trillion stimulus package.

The Republican-controlled Senate has proposed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act, or HEALS Act, a $1 trillion economic stimulus bill.

Portman said the Democratic option, and its continuation of $600 per week in additional unemployment benefits, disincentives people from working. Some of his Republican colleagues, including Sens. Rand Paul from Kentucky and Ted Cruz from Texas, have said even the Republican plan is too much government spending.

While he thinks there needs to be more focus in spending and better accounting of what’s already been spent, Portman said, the CARES Act was positive and additional funding is needed. He wants the Senate to return to Washington next week to work on legislation to help small businesses and health care systems.

“If we don’t deal with the coronavirus issue, all these other problems will continue,” Portman said. “In other words, the economic downturn is a consequence obviously of the coronavirus. So I want to see us really focus on funding for the vaccine, funding for the therapies, the funding for testing because I want to be sure we’re not throwing good money after bad, you know. The federal government can’t prop up the American economy forever. There’s just not enough money out there even though we’re borrowing to do what we’re doing.”

Portman also would like to see more flexibility in how relief funding can be spent, which could help local governments that have seen reductions in revenue. Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann and Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, who joined Portman on his tour, agreed.

“I’ve got people sitting at home yet that would love to be working,” Ehemann said. “And I’ve got work for them.”