Iowa Small Business Development Centers aiding businesses indirectly damaged by disasters

AMES, Iowa -- While repairs continue to be made to damage caused by the state's severe weather last summer, Jim Heckmann suspects that indirect damage is now being felt by some businesses. The state director of the Iowa Small Business Development Centers, housed at Iowa State University, Heckmann knows many businesses that serve customers in disaster-affected areas are now taking a financial hit, too.

"What we predicted seems to be holding true, and that's that the last fiscal quarter or this current quarter is when people who were not actually flooded out or damaged by a tornado realize that they have a problem," Heckmann said. "That's because they're all part of the economic fabric -- meaning if weather-damaged businesses close long-term or for good, that's going to have an effect down the line on both customers and suppliers."

He urges businesses that are now feeling the economic crunch from last summer's disasters to seek assistance from the Iowa Small Business Development Centers, which received $458,000 in special federal funding to aid businesses in their disaster recovery. An additional $355,000 for disaster recovery assistance is expected by March. Heckmann says much of that money has been used to hire extra counselors at regional centers located in Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo -- with $175,000 being directed to the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor Business Recovery Center.

Counselors are working closely with local groups and businesses to identify their needs and help them find solutions.

"One of the things we had to do in July was figure out what would be needed, and when." Heckmann said. "We knew everything (in the form of disaster recovery assistance) was not needed at once. We had to plot an anticipated demand curve for our Small Business Development Center services. Thankfully, our predictions proved to be just about on the mark, with the demand for recovery services trailing our predictions by only some 45 days. We've been well-prepared and able to help when businesses started asking."

Heckmann reports that businesses still have until Friday, Feb. 27, to apply for economic injury loans through the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) in the state's 84 counties that were declared federal disaster areas. Small businesses or private, non-profit organizations that have suffered substantial economic injury -- regardless of physical damage -- and are located in a declared disaster area may be eligible for financial assistance from the SBA loans.

Counselors from the Iowa Small Business Development Centers are taking an active role in helping businesses apply for federal loans.

"We are reaching out to businesses -- making phone calls to survey them about their needs in the areas that have been affected by the disasters," Heckmann said. "The additional federal money is allowing us to get businesses the consulting services they need to help them through these challenging circumstances.

All Iowa Small Business Development Centers' counseling services are free of charge to clients.

Additional information is available online here.

Business owners may also contact the centers' state office at (515) 294-2030, or to learn more about disaster relief options available to them.