Alabama small business owner shuts down logging business after 20 years due to COVID

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First, Richard Grice lost two of his employees who died in August after testing positive for COVID-19. Then, after falling behind on monthly payments, he lost all of his logging equipment to the company that funded him. Fortunately, he says, he didn’t put his house as collateral like one of his colleagues did.

Finally, as his five children started the new school year, Grice stopped trying to save the business he had created from scratch.

After 20 years, Grice Logging and Trucking closed its doors and laid off the seven employees who had remained with the company until its bitter end.

Richard Grice shows photos of the logging equipment he lost with the bankruptcy of his business during the COVID19 pandemic, in Butler, Alabama on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

“It all happened overnight,” said Grice. “I went from around $ 800,000 to $ 1 million a year and now back to $ 1,000 a week.”

The Butler native started his business after returning from touring Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, and he was proud of its steady growth.

Every four or five years, Grice was able to hire a few more truck drivers and finance new equipment as he acquired more customers. Even when excessive rains caused occasional production delays, the company’s expansion was predictable as the lumber industry as a whole was predictable.

Alabama has the third largest forest base in the United States, and for years the number of available jobs has been steadily increasing. In fact, it still is.

As the request of the wood exploded during the pandemic, however, Grice faced a different set of struggles. In early March 2020, he leased $ 1 million worth of new logging equipment, expecting the growth he saw in his business to continue.

Instead, what followed was a series of calamitous events: COVID consumed the country, employees resigned, replacements could not be found quickly enough, historical heavy rains shut down production and Grice used up her savings trying to keep the business out of the water.

Pandemic pressures peaked with the business shutdown two months ago.

Now Grice works as a truck driver in western Alabama, driving what he estimates to be 12- to 3-hour shifts up to six days a week. Her first day on the job came less than a week after losing her business.

Richard Grice talks about his business failure during the COVID19 pandemic, in Butler, Alabama, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

“I couldn’t sit there being sad and miserable because I still have a wife and children at home. So I went looking for a job and kept moving, ”said Grice. “Now I have to do what someone else says for less money. I have to work more hours for less money. It affects me.

He tries not to let his emotions dampen his motivation to work, but he still feels heavy.

In addition to the rising bills for his house and the disappointment of the employees he made redundant, Grice said he struggled to mourn the deaths of Steve Gordon and Scott Harris, his crew members who died after have been infected with COVID-19.

Gordon was his right hand; Harris was a truck driver for the company.

“When they passed it really hurt me,” Grice said. “I needed them.”

Several other Grice Logging and Trucking workers left the company during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were among the millions of Americans who quit during what is now known as, “The great resignation”, of the pandemic. Some feared dangerous work environments, while others suffered burnout during the pandemic or simply reassessed their priorities.

Even with a 41% smaller workforce, Grice found hope in the Paycheck Protection Program, the $ 800 billion federal loan program designed to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

Grice Logging and Trucking ultimately received $ 20,833 under the program, but said it was not enough to have a significant impact.

Richard Grice talks about his business failure during the COVID19 pandemic, in Butler, Alabama, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

“What really hurt me was that there were other companies that have been around for a short time that I get a lot more PPP loans,” said Grice. “I still can’t figure out how the people who are already up there and really don’t need help collecting all the money. “

PPP loans were calculated based on the average monthly salary costs of a business owner and his employees, and using the US Small Business Administration PPP Loan Calculator, Grice said the maximum amount he should have received was $ 100,000.

Points of sale like The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times reported concerns about racial disparities in the distribution of PPP loans. More than a month after the start of the program, the SBA’s office of the inspector general concluded that the agency had not ordered private lenders to prioritize minority and female-owned businesses, as Congress had expected. Reports of concerns continued in 2021.

According to data released by the SBA, three white-owned logging and trucking companies in western Alabama received more than five times the amount Grice made in P3 loans.

However, Sumter Timber Company, Forest Products Bar and Rolison Trucking enrolled more employees than Grice Logging and Trucking on their PPP requests. The owners of these companies had not responded to requests for interviews at the time of publication.

“Some people run certain cities. They always have, ”said Grice.

Nonetheless, Grice doesn’t see a clear path to reopening her business anytime soon. Grice plans to continue driving trucks until he finds another career opportunity, and he hopes it will be “just enough”.

Hadley Hitson covers rural South for Montgomery Advertiser and Report for America. She can be reached at [email protected].


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