Katherine Gilbert-Theriot works directly with businesses in Terrebonne Parish and has been for a while. Many know her through her works with the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority (TEDA) where her smile, wit, and knowledge shine through.
Theriot was going through a list of companies she has been talking to post-Ida. You can almost hear a sparkle of life in her tired voice as she realized something, “As I’m looking at this list, one thing stands out amazingly to me, is we know we’re resilient, but we don’t always know-how.” As she was skimming this list, she noticed how many of those companies took it upon themselves to care for their employees, “you have companies that have provided fuel to their employees for their generators and vehicles,” she said, “I had another company that is trying to find housing and shelter for at least 45 people.” She also shared to the Times that some families are being allowed to sleep in offices and on boat vessels, “they have a guy that doesn’t have a home, so they’re sleeping on a boat. In the morning, they wake up, they eat breakfast, and they go into the shipyard and they’re working,” she said. These companies are trying everything to care for their employees and their families, and Theriot said the support shown by these companies for their employees is not only impressive but very humbling. “We have some wonderful businesses that operate here in our economy and they are treasured,” she said.
The silver linings help through times of rebuilding after a storm of Ida’s strength rolls through an area. Theriot said there are still challenges more than a month out. Some companies are still trying to get equipment in, but terminals have been backed up with packaging, so they have not been accepting many new packages. This is causing some items to be sent back to the manufacturer. Some businesses don’t have internet, a habitable facility to operate from, and still have communication issues. She shared she doesn’t remember a time like this especially with how long it’s going to take to get back to anything resembling normal.
When it comes to business recovery, many moving pieces have to come together. Many of the businesses that have suffered and trucked through the pandemic have been ravaged by Ida. Some fear that many companies might not be able to rebuild financially, but Katherine and TEDA are doing everything they can. Businesses that reach out to TEDA have an inkling of what to do simply because it’s ingrained in a South Louisianan to reach out to FEMA when a hurricane leaves behind damage. FEMA is immediately referring businesses to the Small Business Association (SBA) as an automatic referral. TEDA is patterning with community organizations such as the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce, where Theriot said they are doing a great job of helping keep up with resources and reaching out to its members making sure they are being taken care of. BIG, SLEC and the local LSBDC are examples of other organizations TEDA works hand in hand with. “We will rise again. We’re going to rise from the debris, and the rubble, and the ashes,” Theriot said, “We’re going to need help doing it, it’s just very wide-spread and it’s affecting everyone…there’s a huge emotional toll that is being taken on by our people right now. It’s overwhelming, it’s beating them down.”
One of TEDA’s partners is LSBDC and Business Consultant Jimmy Nguyen said he’s never left, and he’s been here the whole time. He also described many struggles that local businesses have been going through post-Ida. The most common, he said, was lifelong local fishermen having to start from scratch, businesses having to work 100 percent remote since facilities have been destroyed, all due to Ida’s wrath.
The LSBDC has been helping not only people start businesses, but grow existing ones as well. Part of their services is a resilience plan and Nguyen said that many businesses haven’t had one in place before Ida. Business recovery is one of the organization’s specialties. They start with resources such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Also, there are local resources such as South Central Planning in Houma, Lift Fund, so they find alternative resources as well as the main sources. Nguyen said someone also donated free gas and MREs for distribution, and Master P even came into town to help. He said programs such as Blue Roofs, free food, and various resources came through him to go out directly to the clients.
LSBDC has two local locations and came back pretty quickly. They have a Thibodaux location located on the Nicholls Campus and a Houma location in the Duhe Building on Civic Center Blvd. He said the Thibodaux location had some ceiling tiles that fell but otherwise did well. Once the electricity turned on, they were able to hit the ground running. Their Houma facility is shared with START Corp, which the clinic had generators and wifi, so they were able to share those resources to open their locations quicker, “We were the first ones open, and the first ones there,” Nguyen said.
When clients come in to meet with Nguyen, he said they are all crying together when they tell their stories. People lost their livelihoods. He said they service everyone, but they also noticed that people simply couldn’t make the trip to see them, “So, we’re going to come to you,” he said. They have satellite centers set up so they can meet businesses where they are. In Cut Off, they have a location at Callais Office Supplies, Thursday and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They also have a center at the Dulac Library from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays.
They work hand in hand with SBA at the Disaster Recovery Centers so they can help with loan assistance. SBA essentially gives funding and the LSBDC handles the details. They have multiple SBA loan assistance centers:
– Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center (346 Civic Center Blvd.) Mondays – Sundays 9 am.m to 6 p.m.
– East Houma Public Library (778 Grand Caillou Rd.) Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday & Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
-South Louisiana Economic Council (Nicholls Campus, 322 Audubon Avenue) Mondays-Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
– Callais Office Supply (14402 W. Main Street, Cut Off) Thursdays & Fridays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Business owners can also go to the satellite centers for assistance. Nguyen aims to maximize the finds by helping businesses with a Resiliency Plan and helping them get back on their feet.
The center recognizes that the SBA loans may not be enough for some businesses, so he constantly reaches out to resources to help find even more funding. He reached out to Chevron for help, and they responded big time! They donated over $100,000 to Nicholls who will in turn hand out $5,000 grants to Terrebonne and Lafourche businesses. the deadline was October 8 and the announcement for the recipients will come soon.
Alongside the donation, Chevron also sponsors the Pitch Competition that happens on the Nicholls campus. Businesses come “pitch” their business and need to a panel, and in turn, the winners are awarded funding to help their businesses along. Nguyen said before Ida he was considering canceling the event due to COVID, but businesses need it now more than ever. It will be an opportunity for them to tell their stories, and $50,000 is up for grabs to small businesses. The event will take place on November 16.
Nguyen also is looking forward to Small Business Saturday, which is a campaign hosted by American Express to support shopping local. He sees this year as an opportunity as an announcement and celebration by small businesses to say, “we’re back, and we’re stronger than ever.” Nguyen said, “I’m going to give all of my small businesses all these goods, and it’ll be a big celebration!”
He advised that there are ways to start the process of recovery. The biggest problem for businesses is there is no income being generated, yet the bills are still coming in. He said his clients didn’t know they can defer bills that are coming in. “I advise you to try to negotiate to get a deferment, call your banker if you have a loan, you can pause your car note, you can defer credit cards,” he said. He said he looks at his clients’ expenses, defers as many bills as he can, helps them find other ways to generate income, and sets up a Resiliency Plan. The Resiliency plan allows businesses to have a plan in place if a disaster comes and makes operations impossible. First thing, Nguyen said businesses need to contact their employees, take care of them first. Do you have a remote plan in place? How do you communicate with your customers, whether it’s through Social Media or your Google Page? Are you stopping bills and finding alternative income? Are you contacting vendors? These are all questions that the plan helps answer.
These initiatives are just the beginning, Nguyen said, and they will continue to be there for businesses and continue to fight for them to bring them back. To get immediate help, contact Jimmy Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (985) 449-7092.
According to the U.S. Chamber Foundation, there are some tips that businesses can follow to help recovery along. Implement a disaster plan, assess damages, and consider if a backup location is needed. They also recommend to:
1. Shift your team and leadership from preparedness to recovery.
2. Implement a communications strategy to ensure that the facts go directly to employees, suppliers, customers, and the media.
3. Encourage employees to take appropriate actions and communicate.
4. Document damage, file insurance claims, and track recovery.
5. Cultivate partnerships in the community with businesses, government, and nonprofits.
6. Provide employee support and assistance.
7. Connect with chambers of commerce, economic development, and other community support organizations.
8. Document lessons learned and update your plan.