According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster, and for those that do, only 29% were still operating after two years.  And those that lost their information technology for nine days or more after a disaster likely file Bankruptcy within a year. We have some businesses in our area that continue to be without power and therefore cannot reopen almost two weeks after Irma passed through. For these reasons State and Federal government programs are in place to help business owners recover as quickly as possible after Hurricane Irma.

The Florida Small Business Bridge Loan Program has been activated by Governor Scott. This program is administrated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in collaboration with Florida First Capital Finance Corporation and the Florida SBDC Network. The program provides short term, 90 to 180 days, interest free working capital loans intended to help affected businesses “bridge the gap” between the time the catastrophe hits and when a business has secured long term recovery resources such as insurance claims or Federal assistance. Apply online at www.floridadisasterloan.org. For more information in Charlotte County contact Florida SBDC at FGCU, sbdc@fgcu.edu, in Sarasota County, PGordon@usf.edu. Deadline to apply is October 31, 2017.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low interest, long term disaster loans to businesses of all sizes and to private non-profit organizations to provide working capital and repair or replace disaster damaged property.

Business Physical Disaster Loans are loans to businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property owned by the business, including real estate, inventories, supplies, machinery and equipment. Businesses of any size are eligible. Private, non-profit organizations are also eligible.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans provide working capital loans to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot be met as a direct result of the disaster. These loans are intended to assist through the disaster recovery period.

For more information, contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling (800) 659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s Web site at http://www.sba.gov/disaster.

Since 2004, FEMA has designated September as National Preparedness Month, this plus our recentexperience with Hurricane Irma makes the timing perfect for business owners and managers to examine their plans to handle the full range of disasters, whether natural or man-made.

Often it takes a swift reminder, like an extreme weather event such as Irma to demonstrate that disaster preparations will be a good investment in protecting an organization’s personnel and assets.

How quickly a company is able to get back to business after a tornado, a fire, or a flood often depends on emergency planning and preparation done before the disaster strikes. The Ready Campaign highlights three steps to Business Disaster Preparedness: 1) Plan to Stay in Business; 2) Talk to Your People; and 3) Protect Your Investment. These steps underscore how important it is for businesses to document their property/equipment, back up business-critical information, and put a response team in place. More guidance for disaster planning and preparation is available at the FEMA’s Ready.gov/business website.

Let me know your thoughts at eddavis@scorevolunteer.org.

Port Charlotte SCORE is a Chapter of The SCORE Association, dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses by educating and mentoring entrepreneurs. Volunteers provide confidential business advice to meet the needs of both start-up and existing entrepreneurs at no cost. Request a mentor at www.portcharlotte.score.org. Follow us on Twitter; @charlottecscore