North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska were able to score the largest number of PPP loans relative to the number of small businesses in each state, according to the Small Business Administration. What do those midwesterners have going for them? Local banks that jumped into action. Neighbors helping neighbors. 

Regional and community banks in less-populated areas like North Dakota are better at dispersing PPP loans than large national banks with a dominant presence in cities, says Constantine Yannelis, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Yannelis is one of the co-authors of a joint study by Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that analyzed the first wave of PPP disbursement. 

For example, 15 percent of North Dakota businesses got PPP loans in the first tranche. By comparison, only 3.69 percent of New York businesses received PPP loans in the same tranche. A similar pattern occurred in the second tranche, which is still open: 25.71 percent of North Dakota businesses got PPP loans compared with New York's 13.03 percent. 

The banks' ability to deliver is telling. The states hit hardest by the economic effects of the virus didn't get as much PPP relief. "We do not find evidence that funds flowed to areas more adversely affected by the economic effects of the pandemic, as measured by declines in hours worked or business shutdowns," according to the study. 

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Additional reporting by Gabrielle Bienasz.