Standing by them

Unconditional support …

Floods comprise about one-third of the natural disasters that afflict our planet each year — more than any other type of natural event. And while the physical destruction during and after a flood is very evident, not as evident is the emotional and psychological impact floods have on individuals, businesses and communities.

man thinking while looking over body of waterFor business owners, it can be a doubly difficult. At the same time they are facing the loss of their personal property and ensuring the safety of their families during the crisis, they also face another set of decisions that affect anyone involved in the business, as well as its customers and community. Feeling responsible for so many other individuals adds another layer of anxiety for business owners at an already stressful time.

The MU Business Development Program has a variety of resources to assist flood-affected businesses.

These documents will help business owners make decisions about the future of their company. The BDP can assist in many ways, particularly in partnership with area lenders, technology experts, state departments and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration.

However, along with help in completing forms, applying for funding, enhancing communication and securing physical facilities, owners of flood-affected businesses need support from family, friends and community as they realistically assess whether or not the company can recover. These emotional decisions are quite personal and painful. Business owners need time, space and patience to make the best decision. Unfortunately, in many cases, business owners become victims of a community’s disaster fatigue and are told to simply get over it and get back to normal.

The truth is “normal” no longer exists. Conditions will never be the same as they were before the disaster.

What can we do to support business owners in this situation?

Remain calm, serve as a sounding board and expect a wide range of emotions from those affected by the crisis. Stress patience and the wisdom in taking small, achievable steps first. Finally, support whatever decision the business owner makes. Re-opening may not be best for a number of reasons.

  • The business owner is near retirement age and decides to go ahead with that next chapter rather than make the investment in rebuilding.
  • The business is not bankable and lacks the funds to finance a reopening. If the business was not sustainable before the disaster, this event may be a natural time to close the company rather than face ultimate, protracted failure.
  • The owner is tired of the business and does not have the energy to commit to a new company that is more fulfilling.
  • The company’s market has disappeared. In widespread disasters, when many families choose to relocate, the customer base may relocate with them.
  • The company’s physical location is now too unstable for a reopening in the same spot, necessitating an expensive relocation for the firm.
  • The business is dependent on a partnership that is not working well.
  • The business is family owned, but the next generation has no interest in continuing the enterprise.
  • If the reopening will take a long time, the firm’s customers may have moved on to another similar business for their goods or services, and the cost of reclaiming them is too expensive.

In some cases, although it may never be stated aloud, the disaster may be beneficial in that it provides an opportunity for some business owners to make a more graceful exit or to make major — perhaps uncomfortable — changes to take the firm in an entirely new location.

If the decision is to reopen, keep in mind that the timeline for recovery will vary by business, and the community needs to be patient. Decisions made in haste are often the wrong ones. Some companies will want to rush the process, particularly if the owner and the family are wholly dependent on the business as their livelihood. In the case of family businesses, owners may want to rush to reopen to preserve the family’s name and image in the community.

Clearly, decisions for business owners affected by a disaster are complicated and intertwined. The BDP can certainly help make order from the chaos, but in the end, the decision belongs to the owner. Friends, family, customers and community must learn to be patient so the next choice the business owner makes is ultimately the best for all involved.