Last month Dover signed a $20,000 contract with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation to develop a temporary Emergency Business Assistant Coordinator (EBAC) program that would help flood-damaged businesses access the information and funding they need to recover and resume operation. The BDCC hired Bruce Mullen and Gretchen Havreluk. Since they hit the ground three weeks ago, they’ve met with 80, or 77%, of the 104 damaged businesses on their list. “Sure, there are some left to be found, and some they’re having a hard time getting in touch with,” said BDCC Executive Director Jeff Lewis.
According to figures gathered by the EBACs, 55 businesses have reopened since the flood, another 16 are planning to reopen, and 10 have closed. Six businesses have reopened at a temporary location, and three businesses plan to move to a new location.
Mullen and Havreluk estimate that there have been business damages and losses totaling more than $5.9 million, including $2.9 million in damage to buildings, $1.6 million in damage to equipment, $1 million in inventory loss, and $350,000 in lost business. “Those are provisional,” Lewis said. “People are still discovering losses. Frankly, they’re still finding people in some stage or another of shock.”
And, according to their figures, local businesses have received about $1.7 million in emergency loans from the federal Small Business Administration and the Vermont Economic Development Authority so far. But Mullen noted that the figures may be incomplete, since they only included figures from businesses willing to reveal how much they have received in loans.
Dover board member William “Buzzy” Buswell asked if there was any assistance for businesses that were turned down for SBA loans because their 2009 figures showed a dip in revenue. Buswell said he knew of two people who were turned down for an SBA loan because they couldn’t show three years of positive revenue thanks to a downturn in the economy in 2009. “The economy blanked in 2009,” Buswell said. “Some businesses had reserves, but now those reserves are gone. Is there any assistance for a business that got turned down because they don’t have a good three-year record?
“The SBA process is terrible, unpredictable,” agreed Lewis. “We know that, they know that.”
BDCC Project Manager Laura Sibilia said that those businesses should let Mullen and Havreluk know about their situation. “If we have a number of businesses in that position, we need to raise that flag,” she said.
Lewis said the EBAC effort was only in its early stages. “We don’t have conclusions yet,” he said. “We’ve spent $5,500 out of the $20,000, so we’re a quarter of the way through the money, and a third of the way through the time. So the budget looks good.”
Wilmington board member Tom Consolino asked what the other stages of the program would look like. “Well, we’re learning as we go along,” Lewis said. “The first stage is to see what’s out there, identify losses, and see what our resource set is, then we’ll start seeing where the biggest needs and biggest opportunities are. We want to work with the people who can come back. There are some for whom this is a killing blow.”
“I’m hearing you say the next step is to go in on a case-by-case, business-by-business situation,” Consolino said. “What about the big picture?”
“In addition to focusing on key businesses, we’ll be doing some broad education and have business meetings,” Lewis said. “But this program is designed to work at the individual business level. FEMA’s long-term recovery program will look at the entire community’s recovery progress.”
Linda Anelli asked if the EBACs were working with Dover businesses. Mullen said that they were working with about a dozen businesses that were physically impacted by Tropical Storm Irene.
Buswell asked how business owners were reacting to the EBACs. “Extremely positively,” said Mullen.
“I’ve heard positive comments,” noted Buswell.
Buswell asked if the $20,000 that Dover paid would be enough to get the job done. “At the end of the three months, we’ll produce a report and we can all sit down and decide if there’s more to do,” said Lewis.
Mullen said that the team of two part-time coordinators has worked well. “I’m not sure one person would have worked, given the short time span,” he said. “We thought we were working under a deadline of October 31. Our plans are, by the end of the year, to reach out to everyone and at least work with them on the application process.”
The group said they’d meet for another update at the end of November.
At the end of the meeting, Buswell asked Wilmington board members if Dover could provide any other assistance. “And a second thing, I’m still a firm believer in Bill Colvin,” he added. “I know that you’re still in a crisis situation, but we need to move on and address some of the bitown issues. This board is very willing to work with Wilmington to solve any problems we’ve had in the past to move ahead with the bitown planner.”
“We’re overwhelmed by the assistance Dover has already offered,” said Wilmington board member Susan Haughwout, in answer to Buswell’s question, “the money for the EBAC, the $100,000 in marketing that benefits everyone, and the band of Dover residents and second–home owners who came upon the town of Wilmington and helped clean it up.”
“We’d like to get back to bitown cooperation,” said Consolino, in answer to Buswell’s second point, “but bear with us a little longer. We’re getting closer.”