Help still available to local business owners

Last year's hurricanes affected 17-thousand Louisiana businesses, many of those in Southwest Louisiana. Some local businesses are up and running, but many others aren't. Local economic leaders say that's unacceptable and want people to know there's help available. But the timeline to apply for a lot of help is slowly getting smaller.

The recovery process for local businesses after Hurricane Rita has been a slow one. Executive Director of the Partnership George Swift says, "There are a number of businesses that need help to get reopened or strengthen their operating." That help is available. Donna Little with the McNeese Small Business Development Center says, "They are stressed out, they are worried." And area business leaders want to get the word out so we won't see boarded up windows anymore. Little says, "It's a marathon. It's a marathon. It's a long-term process.

Small business owners throughout the five Southwest Louisiana parishes have another chance to apply for a $100,000, six-month, interest-free bridge loan. Chamber Southwest Executive Director Donna Addkison says, "It's important for business owners to get in touch with their favorite banker now to get the paperwork started so when those funds are released, their paper work is done." No word yet on the total amount of money that will be available, but it will be administered on a first come, first serve basis.

Small business loans are also available, but the deadline to apply is approaching in March. Maryann Okeke with the Small Business Administration says, "We know there's a big need still for business owners that have not applied, are not aware they can apply for economic as well as physical recovery to their losses."

Also, economic leaders are continuing town hall meetings to get public input for longterm recovery. Swift says, "What we're doing is compiling a plan which will be submitted to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and they will help us set priorities and they will give us some funding to help us implement the projects." It's a first draft of sorts to make the region different than before Rita. Addkison says, "We then have an opportunity to move from recovery into renaissance to build a Southwest Louisiana we all know can be here."

For information on local organizations, how to apply for loans and assistance, and find out what may be available to you, call the Chamber Southwest at 433-3632.