Port: ND Democrats dunk on Burgum's company for taking a small PPP loan

PHOTO: ND Democratic-NPL 2018 State Convention
North Dakota Democratic Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota companies received roughly $1.7 billion in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.

If you've been living in a cave somewhere, that's one of the relief programs Congress created to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

"The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll," the website of the federal Small Business Administration states . "SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses."

Of all the relief efforts pursued amid this pandemic, this one was arguably the most effective. What better way to protect Americans in this terrible moment than to keep their paychecks and employment benefits in place?

But if you're the North Dakota Democratic Party, you don't care much about those workers if their boss is Gov. Doug Burgum.


Back in 2006, Burgum founded the Kilbourne Group, a real estate development company with a focus on reinvigorating downtown Fargo, in particular.

Like thousands of other North Dakota businesses, they took a PPP loan. According to an excellent and comprehensive article from reporters Adam Willis and Jeremy Turley , Kilbourne accepted an amount between $350,000 and $1 million (those odd monetary ranges are how the feds report data from the program).

The company reported that the loan allowed them to keep 23 jobs.

Rather than being happy about nearly two dozen North Dakotans getting to keep their jobs during deeply uncertain times, the North Dakota Democratic-NPL decided to pounce, issuing a statement written with all the thoughtfulness and maturity of a middle schooler who, like, totally doesn't think it's fair that their older sibling gets to stay up later.

"Catch phrases like 'support our small businesses' or 'small businesses are the backbone of our economy' seem to be nothing but lip service from Burgum and the NDGOP," Democratic-NPL executive director Michael Taylor quotes himself as saying in the party's release. "While Burgum was busy buying elections in North Dakota, he was also busy applying for loans intended for small businesses that do not have a billion dollar budget to keep them afloat.

"If Burgum had $1.85 million in his pocket to buy elections in the state, why didn't he use those same riches for his own company? What about those hair salons, mom-and-pop diners, and other local businesses that are at risk of permanently shutting down? PPP loans should be going to small and micro businesses that are struggling to keep their doors open, not billionaire Governors. If Burgum wants to push his Main Street Initiative, he should put his money where his mouth is and support communities and businesses in need."



As you wade through the opprobrium, remember that nobody, not even the incensed Mr. Taylor, is accusing Kilbourne or Gov. Burgum of breaking any rules or laws. The Kilbourne Group was eligible for this program, and they availed themselves of a rather modest business loan.

Just as Burgum's opponent, Democratic-NPL gubernatorial candidate Shelley Lenz, did. Her business, a veterinarian clinic in Dickinson, accepted a $150,000 to $350,000 loan.

I have no idea how much those 23 employees Kilbourne kept on the job are paid, but if we assume they each cost about $1,000 per week (and that's really, really low), a $350,000 loan would last less than four months.

A $1 million loan would last a little more than 11 months.

If we assume Kilbourne got $1 million, that works out to be less than 6/100 of 1 percent of the total amount loaned to North Dakota businesses.

With all that's going on in the world, this is what North Dakota Democrats have chosen to focus on.

Recently a federal court ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down . That line carries nearly half of all of North Dakota's oil output. The oil industry pays more than half of all the tax collected by the State of North Dakota.


The North Dakota Democratic Party didn't issue a statement about that , but they had plenty of time to try and dunk on Gov. Doug Burgum because his company, like thousands of others in the state, took a small loan to keep some workers on the payroll in an uncertain time.

If you want to argue that companies like Burgum's shouldn't qualify for a PPP loan, then fine, but don't blame Gov. Burgum for that.

Blame the folks in Washington who designed this program.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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