Remember the Floods?

Last week Viet "Henry" Long stopped into Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation's (SMIF) office. He was confused about a couple checks he had received from the Foundation. They were not big checks, totaling only $2,500, but both were indeed for Henry, who co-owns Magic Ten Nails in Owatonna. Henry took over ownership after the 2010 floods, when the previous owner decided the clean-up was more than she wanted to undertake. When the 2016 floods came in September, Magic Ten Nails, located right across from the Straight River in Owatonna, was again underwater.

For those of us who did not suffer water damage during those torrential rains, September already seems so long ago. But, that is not true for those homes and businesses that experienced flooding.

"It was going to take two to three months for the insurance money to come through," said Long. "We couldn't wait that long to get back in business - as a small business, we needed to keep working to keep making money. I had taken out a loan for initial repairs, and was grateful to receive SMIF's funds so quickly to help buy new furniture and equipment."

The grant to Long and 16 other business owners was a small but fast response to the 2016 floods in our region. SMIF's Business Disaster Recover Grants are based on studies that show that early money is crucial to help businesses decide to re-open.

When I first started at the Foundation in 2007, one of my first duties was to figure out what SMIF's response should be to the 2007 floods in southeastern Minnesota. We set up a Disaster Recovery Fund program to provide small grants to businesses to help with initial expenses until insurance money could come through. Since then, the Disaster Recovery Fund model has been replicated in our region and across the state to respond to everything from tornadoes to fires.

As ever in emergencies like these, my friend and colleague John Monson of AgStar is always the first call I get. "Tim, what can we do to help?" AgStar put in the first funds after the 2007 floods, and again after this February's main street fire in Madelia. They also provided a large portion of the funds for the recent flood recovery efforts.

In every instance, those AgStar donations have helped leverage other donations to our Disaster Recover Fund. In 2007, $850,000 was raised and distributed to more than 110 affected businesses in southeastern Minnesota. For the Madelia fire, approximately $240,000 came through the fund (with $100,000 donated by Tony Downs Food Corporation).

The grants SMIF gives are not large and certainly do not cover all losses. But when faced with a disaster, the Foundation's main priority is to encourage our region's small businesses to re-open. These business owners need to know they are valued and surrounded by a support network.

In addition to Henry Long's visit, last week the Foundation also received a note of thanks from a local child care provider, Connie Scott. "The flood that damaged my child care business came when I was still struggling to get up and running," said Scott. "I debated whether to repair the damage and start over, or close the doors. I am pleased with the looks of my updated and renewed daycare and look forward to moving ahead. [SMIF's] support made a big difference!"

When I stopped by Scott's child care last week, it was hard to imagine what it looked like with three feet of water. People like Connie, Henry and many others have demonstrated a high degree of resiliency.

In a town of 1,700 like Rushford, or 2,300 like Madelia or 9,300 like flooded Waseca, the loss of even one or two businesses is huge. That is why we are proud of the small but important role served by our Foundation's Disaster Recovery Fund. For example, in Rushford alone, where roughly 70 businesses were flooded back in 2007, 83 percent of the businesses that reopened after the floods are still doing business today. SMIF's disaster recovery dollars helped make that possible.

2016 was a difficult year for main street businesses in Madelia and for businesses affected by the September rains. Here's to hoping that 2017 is a prosperous year for these small business owners and for the region as a whole.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.

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