Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on June 12, 2015.
By Donald C. Fry
In the wake of the civil unrest that rocked Baltimore in late April, many political, business and community leaders in Baltimore called for a collective effort to help the hundreds of small businesses that were trashed, looted or otherwise crippled by the destruction.
The city and its non-profit economic development arm – the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) – followed suit by quickly establishing a program – the Baltimore Business Recovery Fund – to aid businesses that had suffered property damage or inventory losses during the unrest.
The Greater Baltimore Committee was particularly impressed with and supported the structure of this program because loans, which cap out at $35,000, would carry a zero percent interest rate. Also, applying for the loans wouldn’t require some of the detailed financial background paperwork that Small Business Administration loans demand, and they could be converted to grants if recipients stayed in Baltimore and were operational for at least one year following the loan issuing.
This structure is perfect for small business operations which often worry about taking on expensive debt as it may adversely affect the bottom line and growth. The GBC also liked the fact that businesses wouldn’t have to provide onerous documentation that many loans and insurance claims require. This can slow the time it takes to get recovery checks in hand.
Indeed, this may be one reason why there hasn’t been a rush to apply for Small Business Administration loans in the aftermath of the civil unrest.
The GBC and some of its member businesses and organizations were among the first to step up and pledge hard dollars to the BDC program – a total of $203,000, which included $50,000 directly from the GBC.
To date, more than $300,000 has been pledged to the Baltimore Business Recovery Fund. But we need to maintain momentum with contributions to the fund so as many small businesses as possible can take advantage of it – and we can show city residents, the state and indeed the nation that Baltimore’s businesses community stands strong and united, especially when the ne’er-do-wells wreak havoc on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
The United Way of Central Maryland has raised about $500,000 for recovery aid. But that funding has been distributed to organizations to help stabilize neighborhoods affected by the unrest – not to businesses to get back on their feet.
Now while the BDC is happy to have more than $300,000 pledged to the recovery fund, it isn’t enough to help every, even a majority, of the businesses affected.
That said, BDC officials told the GBC this week they plan to move forward with considering applications and issuing loans soon. That’s welcome news indeed.
Meanwhile, money is moving to businesses under another new BDC program to help with post-unrest recovery.
The Storefront Recovery Grant Program, which can issue loans up to $5,000, aims to help businesses get money fast to repair doors, windows and other such damage so that those that need just these types of fixes can get back in operation. Seven such loans have been approved so far, the BDC’s Susan Yum said.
Juan Nunez is one of the recipients. He’s the owner-operator of Tops in Cellular, an East Baltimore business which sells prepaid cell phones, bill payment and money wire transfer services. Nunez says the BDC grant will be a big help as his street-front operation is in desperate need of a new front door and windows destroyed in the melee April 27. He also plans to use the grant to install a new security system to protect his business from future disruptions.
“People in this community really rely on us,” Nunez said. “The Latino population in this area is very hard working, and they need our services to stay connected and to keep money moving to families in their home countries,” Nunez said. “Baltimore’s neighborhoods really need small businesses like mine. They can be so important to customers who don’t have other options.”
Thanks to the BDC’s hard work, we have a much better picture of what the specific needs of affected businesses, like Nunez’s, are now.
To their credit, BDC’s staff members aggressively hit the streets hard these past two months to visit affected small businesses and talk with owners. As a result, they will compile a pretty good snapshot of each of the almost 400 businesses which suffered physical damage, thefts of inventory or cash, and other losses.
Some of those businesses will be assessed as a total loss.
The rest can be brought back to life.
The business community doesn’t have many of the politics and red tape that City Hall must wrestle with in post-disaster situations.
So let’s take advantage of that, commit financial resources to the recovery fund with donations, and make sure every small business that took a shot to the chin or was put flat on the mat in April gets back on its feet again. City residents and communities are watching us. So, you might argue, is the nation.
Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee and chairman of the Hire One Youth initiative. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.
How you can help
Want to apply for a BDC loan? Call 410-837-9305
Want to donate to the recovery fund? Contact Susan Yum: firstname.lastname@example.org