Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to participate in a question and answer feature to help shed light on a business topic, an industry or add insight to a field of endeavor. This month, Deana Miller, the director of the Superior Chamber of Commerce, addresses questions related to the recovery from the Marshall Fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County.
BizWest: How does the chamber plan to continue supporting small businesses impacted by the Marshall Fire?
Deana Miller: We will be available for in-person assistance at our free business assistance center at the Superior Marketplace through April 30, after which business owners can schedule a one-on-one meeting with the chamber director for customized assistance. At the business center, businesses and residents can use a laptop, the internet, printer/scanner/copier, use meeting and workspace and get help filling out financial assistance applications. We also have laptops and office furniture to give away.
We will continue to make connections to area service providers such as the Small Business Development Center and Workforce Development center in Boulder.
We are working with the United Policyholders to offer an insurance webinar for businesses to understand their insurance policies and other insurance matters.
We continue to work with our partners to find funding at every level of government to aid the businesses that have uninsured losses, such as equipment damage and loss of income.
We are still trying to gauge the impact to businesses and expect this effort will be ongoing for the long term. Staying in regular contact will be important to follow the progress of recovery and to assess how losing so many customers nearby will impact their bottom lines over the next few years.
BizWest: While there’s been an outpouring of philanthropic support from the region, where are the gaps? What are the most pressing needs?
Miller: Even though every business in Superior was impacted, only four have received financial assistance from the Community Foundation Boulder County (via Boulder County), and there is no other funding for businesses other than a loan through the Small Business Administration. Very few loans have been approved (approximately 28 of 200 applications were approved). Uninsured losses ring true for businesses also, such as equipment damage/destruction and revenue losses from being closed. There was only $500 available through the Community Foundation for lost tools of the trade, and we’re seeing losses well into the thousands for equipment.
Some business owners lost their homes and that is making it hard to get back to running a business. We are still trying to gauge the impact to home-based businesses.
There are gaps in funding for the most vulnerable workers that I just don’t see being covered. For example, there are household workers who lost regular income because their employer’s home burned down, and they do not receive employee wages as required by the IRS, so don’t qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance or Community Foundation funding. There are workers who left their jobs to find other work because they could not forgo a paycheck for as long as it took for their business to reopen, and they were denied Disaster Unemployment Assistance if they even applied.
BizWest: What message is the Superior Chamber sending to the community and those outside of the community with regard to the status of business activity right now?
Miller: Spending locally is more important than ever before, and we are trying to attract people within a nominal driving distance to come to Superior. While we don’t have a cute, historic downtown like other towns, we do have homegrown, unique and locally owned businesses and franchises. We have a special regional promo campaign to let people know Superior is open for business. Residents have really been pulling together and frequenting the restaurants, and the service businesses are ready to get back to work and pamper. We have a wonderful sports facility at the Sport Stable and several independent gyms that are helping people blow off steam.
BizWest: Cleanup for many has been delayed. Are there things that can be done to facilitate speedy cleanup of fire damaged or destroyed structures?
Miller: I’d say yes, but this is out of my wheelhouse.
BizWest: We’re hearing that many residents may discover that insurance reimbursements fall short of reconstruction need. Is there anything the chamber can do, that community supporters can do, to bridge that gap?
Miller: The chamber is working with the town of Superior, city of Louisville and the area chambers in the Northwest Chamber Alliance to uncover funding for our businesses that have experienced uninsured losses, and for workers who lost wages or jobs. After so many disasters happening around the country, there must already be a model out there for a mechanism to get financial assistance to our businesses other than loans. Distributing funds received is a huge logistical problem, and IRS rules for foundations have really tied local hands at this point.