Govt’s $10 million SMSEs relief assistance expected to change how business is done

BUSINESS ASSISTANCE – The process for acquiring and accessing the $10 million funding provided by the government to assist business owners with restoration efforts post-Hurricane Dorian, will undoubtedly change the trajectory in which businesses operate and prepare for natural disasters moving forward. (PHOTO: JUELANDA THOMPSON)

The process for acquiring and accessing the $10 million funding provided by the government to assist business owners, particularly those with small to medium sized Enterprises (SMSE’s) with restoration efforts post-Hurricane Dorian, will undoubtedly change the trajectory in which businesses operate and prepare for natural disasters moving forward, said Executive Director, Small Business Development Centre (SBDC), Access Accelerator, Davina Grant. 

The Executive Director made this statement during a recent interview, as she and President of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, Gregory LaRoda discussed the island’s economic future following the September historic storm.

Grant expressed that while the process to applying for the funding may seem tedious to some, the required documentation will, in the long run, be beneficial to business owners in years to come.  

“One of the critical things that this $10 million will do is, change the way that people do business. In every single business plan that we prepare under this $10 million, it will now include, as a mandatory element, your business disaster recovery plans as a matter of course 

“From a technology point of view, are you saving your information in the ‘Cloud’ (on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user)?

“From an emergency plan – what is your 24-hour plan, leading up to an emergency? What are the insurances that you have; are there some group insurances, either as the Chamber (of Commerce) or the SDBC that we can continue to pursue, to help companies deal with the cost of insurance after something like this. 

“Even business continuity insurance … for too long, people have ignored it but this is the way that you can carry your staff when a disaster happens, if you insure for this type of thing,” said Grant. 

She added that living in a hurricane prone environment, natural disasters such as Dorian are inevitable and, as such, necessary measures must be put in place to prepare for them.

“If you look at the last 10-to-15 years, I think that there were at least three-to-four hurricanes that hit Grand Bahama; that is not once in a lifetime, that is once every two years. And so, business continuity insurance is very important, especially if you have a significant operation and a significant team. 

“For us, the $10 million, at the very least, helps the companies that we can help become more sustainable in the future. It is also a signal to the private sector really, that they can step in to solve some of these problems. 

“While under the government’s programme, because of the guarantee behind it, there are very attractive rates in this programme, but other persons with lots of liquidity on their books, may wish to offer loans, outside of this programme. It can be mutually beneficial not only for those who need the money but also those that can provide the money, at the right price,” Grant said. 

“The $10 million is the jumpstart and I think that it is critical for us to look at it that way. It would be a miracle if any government, if anytime there is a hurricane, can bail out every single company that does not have insurance. It would be a miracle if the insurance companies could pay out every single time there is a hurricane, without having exorbitant premiums, in order to do so. 

“I think that we need to be very realistic about what we as a country can afford in terms of business recovery and what we can do to help.  This $10 million goes a long way to start that process.

“This is an opportunity really, for the private sector to step up and see how it can assist, not just from a donation point of view, but investment as well. This is the time to invest in Grand Bahama.

“Before the hurricane, we boasted about how buoyant the Abaco economy was. It will get back there and will probably exceed it, so investors in other parts of the country, this is the time to invest in Abaco. Not everyone is going to need to come to the Government, for help, to recover. People need to seek private investments as well and investors need to become a bit more involved in returning our economy to where we would like it to be,” expressed Grant. 

In terms of loss of inventory and the ability to maintain their employee compliment, due to the impact Dorian had on many business owners, Grant elaborated, “The funding that is being made available by the government, can assist with that. 

“You may not need to rebuild your building, you may only have light renovations that you need to do, but you need to carry your staff, for a period of time, until you can rebuild the revenue in your company You need to get new inventory landed, so that you can continue to sell it. If that is the case, the funding can be used for that.

“I want to stress that because sometimes persons do not walk through the door because they believe that something is not going to be an eligible purchase or an eligible expense. We do not know what the needs are and the only way that we are going to know is to let the people that we have sitting and waiting to discuss your business with you. Please come in, let us talk about what is going on.”

She continued, “At the moment, I believe that we have about 30 applications from Grand Bahama already and those needs are nearly up to $4 million, from 30 applications. Again, we will be accessing those applications and making applications and making absolutely sure, what the individuals need. That is an average of somewhere around $150,000. 00, or just underneath that, per client.

“I do not want individuals to stay away because they are not sure that they will get the assistance or how quickly they will get the assistance. Do not try and do everything before you come. Persons who have gone online, may have seen the checklist; the idea is not to wait until you have all of those things in your possession. We actually can help you recover some of those documents through our relationships with government agencies, or our relationships with other agencies who will have soft copies of those KYC (Know Your Customer) documents. 

“Please come and see us, let us build this together and then hopefully we can get things back on track, as soon as possible, for as many companies that we are able to assist,” she stated.

While the $10 million funding is accessible exclusively to existing formal businesses that were active prior to Dorian’s passing, Grant hastened to add that the SBDC’s existing program for start –up businesses will continue moving forward next month.

“We have been focusing thus far, on existing businesses that we want to recover. Come November, we will begin to focus on start-ups that help to facilitate the recovery of the economy. For example, there may be alternative energy companies; this is the perfect time for them to emerge and, similar companies that can help with the recovery given what has happened. 

“In terms of the focus, from a location point of view, as long as you can demonstrate that there was damage to your business, then we can help with business recovery. 

“When it comes to start-ups, that can be anyone from the island of Grand Bahama that sees a need in another location in Grand Bahama, that can help those communities recover.  If you see a need on the eastern end; if you see a need in the city, where some businesses have decided to close down because they just do not want to go at it again, and you would like to do a start-up that can fill some voids in those communities, then, definitely we will help at that time. 

“The location, the spirit of the initiative is to help those communities recover and, whether that is through existing businesses or start-ups, the location of the individual is not as important as the location of the business. 

To encourage persons to shop locally, to boost the economy both here on Grand Bahama, as well as on the island of Abaco, Grant added, “The government has put in place any number of exemptions to help with this rebuild and it applies to local providers of these building supplies. The same duty free or Value Added Tax (VAT) exemption under the Exigency Order, that you would want to get internationally, you can get from the local suppliers as well. Please support local providers. 

President of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, Gregory LaRoda added similar sentiments with respect to the importance of residents shopping at home for supplies as opposed to purchasing items abroad. 

“I must put this plug in now, that we are encouraging folks, whether other businesses or the general public, to buy locally. Help these businesses to get back up and running, so that we can get this economy to recover in the shortest possible time there is,” said LaRoda.  

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