Hurricane Wilma help for business came to town last week. The Collier County Economic Development Council fired up phone banks, held workshops and opened its Business Assistance Center to spread the word about what help is available for recovering businesses.
What follows are some questions and some answers from the EDC and other sources on local, state and federal help and getting back to business as usual.
Q. I have damage to my business. What should I do?
A. First, contact your insurance company. Next, register with FEMA. Call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 or go to www.FEMA.gov. Be sure to refer to disaster No. 1609 for Hurricane Wilma.
Q. The sign for my business got blown down. Can I put up a temporary one?
A. Yes. Collier County Community Development and Environmental Services Administrator Joe Schmitt says businesses can put up a banner or temporary sign for six months.
Q. I’m self-employed and couldn’t work following Wilma. Do I qualify for unemployment assistance?
A. Yes. You may qualify for “disaster unemployment” if you are self-employed. To find out if you can recoup lost income, go to www.floridajobs.org and click on the emergency Web site button in the top right-hand corner. Assistance is available for those out of work after Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005 — six days after Wilma hit. To apply for assistance, go to www.fluidnow.com or call (800) 204-2418.
Q. I’m a business owner. Where can I get Hurricane Wilma recovery help?
A. The Collier County Business Assistance Center, located at the EDC offices at 3050 N. Horseshoe Drive, Suite 120, in Naples, has been set up as a clearinghouse for business help. Business owners can apply for assistance from the Small Business Administration; Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board; FGCU’s Small Business Development Center; and Enterprise Florida Inc. Call the Business Assistance Center at (239) 821-0591.
Q. Are disaster relief grants available?
A. No. only interest-free loans, according to the EDC. There are no grants available for business recovery purposes.
Q. What types of loans are available to help keep my business running?
A. There are four loan programs:
-- State of Florida/Emergency Bridge Loan — Offers short-term loans of up to $25,000. Available to small business owners who have sustained physical damage to their businesses, have been in operation for one full year prior to Hurricane Wilma, Oct. 24, and have between two and 100 employees. Bridge loans aren’t available for economic loss due to decreased sales, temporary closings or lost inventory from power outages.
-- SBA Physical Disaster Business Loans — Loans are available to qualified applicant businesses of any size for uninsured losses of up to $1.5 million to repair or replace business property to pre-disaster conditions. Loans may be used to replace or repair real estate, equipment, fixtures and inventory and leasehold improvements.
-- SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) — Loans of up to $1.5 million are available for small businesses that sustain economic injury as a direct result of a disaster. These working capital loans are made to businesses without credit available elsewhere to help pay ordinary and necessary operating expenses that would have been payable barring the disaster. The interest rate on these can’t exceed 4 percent per year and the term can’t exceed 30 years, according to the SBA. The term of your loan will be determined by your ability to pay, the SBA says.
-- FGCU/Small Business Development Center — Certified business analysts will provide general business counseling to help access traditional SBA loans.
Q. Who is eligible for programs offered by the Business Assistance Center?
A. Anyone who owns a business in Collier County.
Q. How will I know what I qualify for and what should I bring?
A. Business Assistance Center counselors will assist you in figuring out what type of aid best suits your business’s needs. To speed up the process, bring copies of your business’ financial statements and federal tax returns for the past three years.