Safety net preserves 10,637 Villages jobs

Laila Osorio is able to continue working as the manager at the Legacy Restaurant at Nancy Lopez Country Club because her employer secured a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program.

The real possibility of unemployment weighed heavily on Laila Osorio and Linda Bennett. Each worried about how to pay bills and feed their families, as Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered certain businesses in mid-March to close and restricted public gatherings because of the COVID-19 health crisis. The action threatened Osorio’s job as manager at the Legacy Restaurant at Nancy Lopez Country Club and Bennett as director of events and community outreach leader at Parady Financial Group. Weeks of uncertainty, however, gave way to appreciation when their employers secured loans through the Paycheck Protection Program that President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“It was a big relief,” said Osorio, the married mother of three daughters ages 6, 10 and 13, when her boss, David Suleiman, advised her that he secured a loan to protect payroll. “I was afraid.”

Osorio and Bennett are among thousands of workers in The Villages spared from unemployment because their employers applied for forgivable loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Around $109 million in loans secured by 1,072 employers through Citizens First Bank protected the jobs of 10,637 workers in The Villages.

“The impact is we kept those workers employed, which enabled them to buy groceries, take care of their children and know they would have a job when their employers reopened,” said Brad Weber, the hometown community bank’s executive vice president and chief lending officer. “Isn’t that fantastic? Our lenders here at Citizens First are very proud to have the trust of those employers. After all, we are the hometown bank in great times or troubled times.”

Without the loans, the resulting economic slowdown threatened hundreds of jobs at Wildwood’s T&D Family of Companies, one of The Villages largest providers of new home and aftermarket construction services.

It would have forced layoffs of around 75 workers just at T&D Concrete, said Terry Yoder, chairman and CEO of the construction services group.

The slowdown would have eliminated all the company’s aftermarket jobs, a division managed by Yoder’s nephew, Matthew Yoder.

It was such a difficult time that Matt even scheduled brother, Josh, for a layoff, Terry Yoder said.

“Matt wasn’t going to show favorites,” he said. “It was painful.”

The loans came at a critical time, Yoder said.

“We were able to hang on to our employees, and still give them enough money to survive,” he said.

The goal to save around 70 jobs and protect families also motivated nephew Nate Yoder to apply in March for a PPP loan as president and owner of the T&D Pool Construction Division, which builds new pools for The Villages and provides aftermarket pools for residents.

But then Nate declined the proceeds when a curious stroke of fate happened.

Right around that time, the Village Community Development Districts closed all recreation centers and pools, Nate said.

In response, calls from residents soared for new pool installations in The Villages, he said.

“We were scheduling on average 20 new sales per week, and we went to 40, all from new customers wanting new pools,” Nate said. “We’re usually booked out two to three months on appointments. We’re booking appointments into December.”

If not for PPP, Bennett faced an unsettling future since Parady could no longer offer financial education services to large groups at the firm’s education center in Brownwood. If that wasn’t enough, her husband’s employer furloughed him.

“For me to have a job was huge,” said Bennett, who has worked at the firm for the past six years. “When this hit, I thought to myself I’ll be the first to go. I’ve been in the events business for 30 years. Had I lost my job, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m an older worker; too old to get another job, but too young to retire.”

The actions of her boss, Greg Parady, only deepens her appreciation about his concern for clients and employees, she said.

“He’s one of a kind, and kind,” Bennett said. “He cares about all of us, and this community. I’m really, really happy here.”

With the education center closed, Parady put Bennett in charge of client welfare.

“They called every client to make sure they were OK,” he said.

Parady also publicly disclosed the terms of his loan.

“I’ve got a breakdown on every dollar I spent,” he said. “The biggest issue we had was to keep everyone off unemployment. I didn’t even take any employee backwards in pay.”

The PPP loans kept around 150 workers employed at the two restaurants that Suleiman owns in The Villages, the Havana Country Club and Legacy restaurants.

“Without PPP, we would have drowned in debt, and we wouldn’t have been able to pay rent,” he said. “We would have been down 90% on payroll, and people on salary would have to take pay cuts, as well. These are hard workers, loyal workers. Without the loans, it would have been devastating not only for them and the company but the local economy, as well.”

What worried Suleiman the most, however, was the potential loss of key employees like Osorio.

“For us to start over with 150 new employees, recruit and train them, would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “People don’t understand the cost behind recruiting and training. It would have been tough around here.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.