SBA, MO SBTDC, other agencies unite to rebuild Ferguson
The events in Ferguson beginning in August 2014 and gripping national attention through the fall and winter need no elaboration. Generating far less publicity, however, is the fate of about 100 businesses in Ferguson and adjacent St. Louis suburbs that suffered disproportionately from the devastation. Even businesses that weren’t directly damaged saw receipts drop precipitously as police closed streets, protesters clogged the avenues and customers stayed away.
In response, the SBA declared the area an economic disaster, opening a disaster center in the Ferguson Public Library, in the heart of Ferguson. Businesses in the SBA-designated disaster area that can prove impact on or after August 9 can apply for a small business disaster loan to acquire working capital and restore their business to pre-disaster conditions.
Several agencies also stepped in with financial and legal aid and numerous St. Louis SBTDC counselors contributed marketing assistance, assistance with access to capital and business planning:
- The St. Louis SBTDC established a temporary office on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis to provide better access to UMSL student and faculty entrepreneurs and to businesses affected by unrest. The UMSL campus is located less than two miles from the heart of Ferguson.
- MO SBTDC state director Chris Bouchard authorized emergency counseling on a wide variety of issues, including evaluating a business’s strength, cash flow projections and most importantly, reviewing all options to ensure a business makes appropriate decisions. Re-opening a business after a disaster, natural or manmade, is an enormous challenge. (See our disaster resource guide.)
- The St. Louis SBTDC is working with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (EDP) to aid affected businesses. The EDP has put together a $1 million small business recovery fund. SBTDC counselors and EDP officials have also walked the area to get a street-level view and provide individualized technical assistance. Affected businesses may be granted up to $10,000 to aid in recovery.
- The SBTDC is also offering affected businesses guidance in applying for modest, non-SBA or EDP grants and in referring businesses to qualified attorneys and accountants to help with the often complex insurance paperwork.
- The St. Louis center also provides classes on self-employment and entrepreneurship, led by counselor Lynette Watson, for the St. Louis Agency for Training and Employment (SLATE). SLATE provides employment services and training for low-income individuals in the city of St. Louis. SLATE was asked by the mayor of St. Louis to assemble a crisis team to assist in recovery, and SLATE turned to the MO SBTDC for training.
- St. Louis SBTDC Director Kevin Wilson heads up the technical assistance committee for the Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) Program in St. Louis, modeled after a Cincinnati program established after that city’s 2001 riots to reduce disparity in the business community by boosting African-American and Hispanic-owned companies and increasing employment. The St. Louis MBA has begun by focusing on mutually beneficial business relationships between minority-owned businesses on the supply side, the corporate community on the demand side and the government sector.
While some businesses have closed and others are struggling to return to pre-August 2014 profitability, the efforts of the SBA and St. Louis SBTDC have established an atmosphere of caring and normality.
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