By Deborah Kania
Dozens of small business owners were joined by several resource organizations at a May 15 workshop to learn how to be better prepared for natural disasters. The Small Business Center (SBC) at Craven Community College (Craven CC) and New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce hosted this vital educational event.
“Building Resilience Capacity for Natural Disasters” seminar was presented by Leslie Lewis of Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF). CSBDF is a nonprofit community development financial institution that supports economic growth through loans and education. Also presenting was Don Spry of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Lewis started her presentation by including a definition of resiliency for businesses: The ability of a business or entrepreneur to spring back into shape.
She also posed this question to the audience: “What if your operations were down for more than three days or even two weeks?”
“Damage and economic impact is still being tallied across the 33 counties that were affected by Hurricane Florence,” said Lewis. She said that it was hard to believe that the new hurricane season is already upon us. However, she said steps can still be taken now to help businesses mitigate potential risks from natural disasters.
Lewis recommended that business owners speak to an insurance agent about their policy to ensure they understand coverage language. She strongly suggested that business owners make a list of serial numbers, take pictures and save receipts for all business assets, and then make sure to update the list at least yearly. She added that storing this information electronically will make it easier to access, even by cell phone, if paper records or computers are destroyed or if business owners have to evacuate for a period of time.
In his presentation, Spry acknowledged the frustration that small business owners experienced while applying for SBA recovery assistance. He said that many applicants had the misconception that the SBA helped people fill out the application. “It is important that you have all the paperwork that SBA needs up to date and ready to go ahead of time.”
The importance of being prepared was experienced first-hand by Brooke White, co-owner of Sound Fitness with her husband Mike. They purchased the business in 2015 and scaled the learning curve of new business ownership. By the end of 2017, she said they felt good about the business’s growth.
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence blew off the roof of the gym, exposing their fitness equipment to the elements. It also reduced their client base by 85%. She had already experienced the sudden loss of her father earlier in the year. She thought about giving up “a thousand times a day.” However, the support she received from the community made their decision to stay in New Bern much easier. “The most wonderful people I know are here in New Bern. They didn’t quit on me, so I am not going to quit on them,” said White.
Currently, they are operating in a temporary location at 1318 Commerce Drive in New Bern. They offer personal training and group fitness workouts by appointment/schedule. She and her husband are actively planning to reopen at full-scale operations in a new location as soon as possible.
White’s best advice to other business owners includes: don’t rely on your logical brain to function immediately after a disaster; have documentation organized and stored in a safe location; don’t lose time spinning your wheels not knowing what to do by having a plan ahead of time; take advantage of available resources; have a plan in place in case something happens to you as the owner of the business; and it is OK to ask for help, even if you don’t know what help you need.
Additional organizations were available to educate participants about their business preparedness and disaster recovery programs: Business Expansion Funding Corporation, Craven County Economic Development, NC Works, Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) at East Carolina University and Thread Capital.
Carolina Small Business Development Fund publishes a disaster preparedness assessment and kit for small business owners. Request copies by visiting SBC’s website at www.cravencc.edu/sbc. Request resiliency resources by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Kania is the director of the Small Business Center at Craven CC.