A steady stream of people sought assistance at a business resource recovery and rebuilding workshop held last Friday at the Community Center.
Recovery and rebuilding aren’t just for those whose physical businesses were burned. It applies to those businesses that lost revenue they would have normally received during the time they were evacuated, for example, said Mark Quinn, a senior advisor for California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO).
Quinn, on assignment with CAMEO from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), said loans are available to hotels that may have lost bookings during the fires and even after. Some tourists canceled their reservations into December, not knowing that there is no damage in downtown Calistoga and other valley areas, and thinking they might face a ravaged landscape. Weddings and other significant group events were canceled too.
The most economic damage to the area has occurred in the tourist industry, he said, and that includes restaurants, bars, tasting rooms, and retail stores that rely on the tourism industry for revenue that pays their employees.
“That’s the group that really needs help to make up the losses,” said Quinn, who lives in Pope Valley. He said because he’s local he is intimately aware of the economic effects of the fires.
Quinn and Bill Koontz, spokesperson for SBA, were both in Houston helping with the hurricane recovery process there when the Wine Country fires broke out. The pictures people there saw from outside of this region made it look like everything was on fire and gone, and people started canceling their trips, Quinn said.
There are loans available to offset that lost revenue, he said, for pretty much any size and type of business. CAMEO focuses on “micro” businesses, which are five or fewer employees and make up 25 percent of the country’s workforce, according to CAMEO.
Businesses can borrow up to $2 million at a rate of 3.3 percent fixed rate on 15- or 30-year terms, Koontz said, and the first payment on the loan isn’t due for a full year.
“It’s a superlative program. It doesn’t exist in the banking world,” he said.
Applying for the loan is free. Those who apply are under no obligation to accept the loan, and there is no cost to get out of the loan.
The application process is taking about four weeks for approval, Koontz said, depending on each individual’s situation, though some are taking longer.
“Get in line now, even if you think you don’t need it yet,” he said.
Almost all businesses in Calistoga have been affected by the fires in some way. “Lost revenue is why we’re here,” Quinn said.
By keeping employers in business they are keeping employees working, and that keeps the community intact, he said.
The SBA is your insurance for insurance, he said.
Donna Zapata, business development officer for Redwood Credit Union (RCU), was at the clinic, too, to help with not only business loans and support, but to help those individuals who need immediate financial assistance.
There are grants available – which do not have to be repaid — for individuals who need help with things like making rent payments, or purchasing groceries. RCU is paying for all of the administration costs affiliated with dispersing the funds. Applications for the Sonoma County Wildlife Relief Fund, distributed through United Way, are available in English and Spanish, she said.
The SBA application deadline for physical damage to a business is Dec. 11, and for economic injury is July 12, 2018. Home disaster loans are also available to homeowners or renters to repair or replace disaster-damaged real estate and personal property, including automobiles. Home disaster loans are capped at $200,000 for the repair or replacement of real estate and $40,000 to repair or replace personal property.
More information on SBA loans can be found through the SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting SBA.gov/disaster. Deaf and hearing-impaired individuals can call 800-877-8339. Applicants may also apply online via SBA’s secure website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.
For more information on the individual grants, contact United Way of the Wine Country at 528-4485, or email UWWC.email@example.com.