Tuesday an overflow crowd of area business people attended meetings at Woodstock’s Town Hall, seeking better understanding of what help is available as they recover from the damages of Tropical Storm Irene.
Sponsored principally by the Green Mountain Development Corporation and the Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce, the event brought together local, state and federal organizations who provided useful information and responded to several specific questions from the audience.
In the first of two 90-minute sessions, emphasis was largely on damage experienced by retail businesses, the second focused on tourism and how the state had immediately responded to the crisis and continues to do things to appeal especially to visitors who traditionally visit Vermont during the foliage and ski seasons.
Meagan Smith, Commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Tourism, emphasized the importance of all tourism-related businesses projecting a positive image of not only the resilience of Vermonters, but also the availability of transportation, lodging and related tourism services which are already available and growing every day.
Much time was spent providing information on what FEMA and SBA organizations can do to help businesses and individuals. Whether a business or an individual (home owner), all applicants are advised to first register with FEMA, online at disasterassistance.gov or 800-621-3362. Thereafter FEMA will work with individuals who may be eligible for a FEMA grant. Those individuals may also request a low interest government loan and will be directed to SBA.
Attendees were told businesses cannot receive a FEMA grant, but FEMA will direct them to the SBA where they apply for a Business Physical Disaster loan and/or an Economic Injury Disaster loan.
Businesses can go to a recovery center either at the Rock Church on route 4 in West Woodstock or the recovery center in Springfield at the office the Springfield Development Corporation at 14 Church Street. Alternatively, applicants may file online with SBA at www.disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
Offering his personal advice to businesses also damaged by Irene, Charlie Shackleton of ShackletonThomas proposed a three-part recovery strategy. “One, file with FEMA immediately and search for every possible source of financial help possible, two talk to your banker who can help fill out complicated financial aid forms and might even allow delaying payments on current outstanding loans (three banks present said they would) and three, think better – incorporate into reconstruction efforts those things which will result in greater energy and other efficiencies,” Shackleton said.
Virtually all agencies and organizations present volunteered to provide information and guidance in applying for financial assistance beyond that offered at Tuesday’s meetings. The Woodstock Area Chamber has assembled a list of all organizations and their representatives involved in the Town Hall meeting, along with essential contact names, phone and email addresses where businesses can seek help. Chamber director, Beth Finlayson suggests calling her at 457-3555 to obtain the list or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the September 22nd print edition of the Vermont Standard.