From Napa Valley Register: Businesses rate SBA performance following Napa earthquake

February 18, 2016 • 
In the 18 months since the August 2014 Napa earthquake, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved 982 loans totaling $37.2 million to Napa County businesses and residents.

The data was presented at a round table discussion at Napa Valley College on Thursday morning to discuss the participants’ experience with the SBA after the quake.

Hosted by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and the head of the SBA, Maria Contreras-Sweet, the forum featured representatives from the city and county of Napa, the Napa Valley Community Foundation, the Small Business Development Center and local small business owners.

“We’ve been through a lot,” said Thompson, but “the SBA was there for us from the beginning.”

According to Tanya Garfield, director of SBA Office of Disaster Assistance, 869 Napa County low-interest loans were approved for homes, totaling $28.6 million. An SBA disaster loan can be approved to cover the damage to a home. A total of 113 loans for businesses were approved, totaling $8.6 million in aid.

Several business owners who received SBA loans shared their experiences of working with the agency.

Jim Beazley, owner of Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn, said one of his biggest challenges was finding the time to investigate loans and aid.

“Our business did not stop” after the quake, he said. “We couldn’t wait for government assistance” to begin to make repairs.

However, at the last minute, he did apply for aid, and received a SBA loan.

“We had a fantastic experience with the SBA,” said Beazley. “We never fell through the cracks. The SBA was there for us.”

Jana Narita, owner of Napa Valley Engraving , said her shop was in shambles after the quake. She lost about 85 percent of her showroom inventory and business income dropped precipitously.

She also had limited time to fill out paperwork for loans, said Narita. But like Beazley, she managed to apply for and receive a loan at the last minute.

Today, she estimates it will take her business several more years to fully recover. “I’m lucky we can still be in business,” she said.

“We were at ground zero of the damage,” said Nancy Levenberg, executive director of the Napa County Historical Society, located in the city-owned Goodman Library on First Street, which still awaits repairs.

Red tape caused delays in applying for aid, but the Historical Society was eventually granted funds from the SBA via the Napa Valley Community Foundation. The money was used to replace damaged office equipment, computers, furniture and elements of the library that needed to be conserved by specialists.

The SBA process included “clear, direct communication,” she said. “It was devine.”

Communicating that SBA loans are available is another key, said the participants.

“Not enough people knew” about the loan options from the SBA or other resources, said Robert Toering, a counselor with Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center.

He thought more money could have been distributed to help more people and business owners.

A number of attendees said they wished it hadn’t taken so long to get the federal disaster declaration, which paved the way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer grant assistance.

“There was a high level of frustration” for those waiting, said City Manager Mike Parness.

“There were weeks when we thought the cavalry wasn’t coming,” said Terence Mulligan, executive director of the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Mary Cervantes, director of Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center, said that her agency assisted approximately 50 small businesses using $1.2 million in grants from both the SBA and Napa Valley Community Foundation.

“I don’t want to have to go through another earthquake but I look forward to working with the SBA again,” she said.

“We need to work more closely with government” on a quicker process to declare a disaster zone, said Contreras-Sweet. “Sixty days was unacceptable.”

Contreras-Sweet said that she’d also like to seek more authority to extend the timeframe the SBA is involved with a natural disaster.

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