BRATTLEBORO (VT) REFORMER -- Long recovery Group works with business owners after historic floods
By HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN / Reformer Staff
Posted: 11/10/2011 03:00:00 AM EST
BRATTLEBORO -- Even though the deadline for applying for federal disaster relief is Nov. 15, an industry group that has been working with business owners who are recovering from Tropical Storm Irene will be helping those businesses long after the final FEMA office is closed.
The Vermont Small Business Development Center was established in 1992 and its staff typically helps business owners with loans and development.
When Tropical Storm Irene hit, and businesses across the state were wiped out or damaged, the group worked with the Small Business Administration to administer loans and provide information to the businesses that were facing a long cleanup and weeks of lost sales.
And while many of the businesses are already well on their way to rebuilding, Vermont Small Business Development Center Assistant Director Linda Rossi said her organization is going to continue working around the state.
"We were here before and during Irene, and we will be here after," Rossi said. "A lot of these people have been through really tough times. They were in shock or dealing with personal losses. We wanted to help them look at their options and take the next step, whatever that may be."
The center has offices in 12 regions in the state and immediately following the storm the counselors got in touch with the business owners they knew through past interactions.
"The first thing we did was make them aware of our services," said Rossi. "When the storm hit they didn't know what to do. We are used to working with business owners and helping them prepare for the future."
Immediately after the storm Rossi called similar groups in Louisiana who worked with businesses after Hurricane Katrina.
The development center teamed up with the SBA to get local businesses registered with FEMA so they could receive loans to get back open as soon as possible.
Across the state SBA has approved 66 business loans totaling about $8.1 million.
In Windham County about $2.08 million was loaned to businesses.
Garth MacDonald, the SBA public information officer for Vermont, said it made sense for SBA to team up with the development center.
"We wanted to reach as many business owners as possible, and they had that information," said MacDonald. "They had already networked with the business community and we were able to get the word out quickly."
MacDonlad wants business owners to know about next week's deadline.
Even if it does not now appear as though the flooding affected business, it makes sense to register, MacDonald said.
"It makes sense to keep that option on the table," he said.
Rossi said her counselors are used to working with business owners who are expanding, or who are starting businesses and need to talk about business plans and loans.
She said even established businesses are now going through similar steps as they figure out how to move on after the floods.
And she said with the proper training, it is possible to emerge even stronger.
"For a lot of people this is not business as usual," Rossi said. "We want to make sure we can motivate them to take action. For people who take the right steps, they can come out better, stronger and smarter."