CAPE MAY — Most small businesses in Cape May County were not physically damaged by Hurricane Sandy, but they are suffering its impacts with fewer vacationers coming from storm-ravaged areas.
There is a government program for that.
Business owners found out about it on Monday at the “Restore the Shore: Getting N.J. Small Business Back to Work” seminar at Cape May Convention Hall. Joseph Molineaux, director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Richard Stockton College, said the federal Small Business Administration has a loan program for “economic injury” due to the storm.
While the deadline to apply for SBA loans for physical damages is Dec. 31, Molineaux said businesses have until July 31, 2013, to apply for economic injuries. He said state and federal tax dollars fund the program through 11 SBA centers in New Jersey and 1,100 in the nation.
“It’s not free money. You paid for it over and over again,” Molineaux said.
There are no grants, but the low-interest loans can help cash-strapped businesses that still have to pay rents, insurance premiums and salaries with less revenue coming in. The program does not provide loans to cover lost profits, he said.
Molineaux said the first step is to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will assign a case number. He suggested doing that right away even if lost revenue doesn’t become a problem until the spring or early summer.
“You need a FEMA number to trigger SBA help,” Molineaux said.
The second step is to fill out the paperwork. Molineaux said any SBA office can help fill it out and submit it.
“It takes about 18 days to find out whether you’re approved for money. Unlike normal loans, they’re not looking for reasons to say no. They’re looking for reasons to say yes,” Molineaux said.
The free seminar Monday, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, drew more than 100 business owners during the course of the day. Some were tourism officials hoping to plot a strategy to get more tourists to the county, because the brunt of Sandy hit farther north. A number of groups are working to make sure vacationers at northern New Jersey resorts don’t decide to go to other states during the rebuilding.
“We want to keep the New Jersey vacation dollars in the state, or it will create an economic decline for everyone in New Jersey,” Mayor Ed Mahaney said.
As Molineaux quizzed the audience, he found a variety of reasons for attending. Owners of motels, hotels and a religious retreat came to inquire about putting up displaced families, which could enhance off-season revenues. Another inquiry came from a man who suffered damages to properties he rents in Cape May and Ocean City. Molineaux matched him up with a loan program.
“You’re eligible. You look surprised,” Molineaux told him.
Another woman was about to start up a business, mobile repairs to car interiors, and her stock stored in a shed on her mother’s property was destroyed in the flood. Molineaux said it is harder for a business without a track record to get a loan, but he encouraged her to apply. Several people representing nonprofits asked if they are eligible for SBA loans and were happy to find out some are tailored to them.
When Molineaux asked the audience how many suffered physical damages and how many are merely losing revenue because the storm stifled tourism, the crowd was evenly mixed. Some raised their hands to both questions. Tom Byrne, an insurance agent, said he was getting 300 calls per day after the storm and came to the seminar just to learn more about loan programs. He said the information would be passed on to people who have no insurance or want extra help outside their flood policy.
Molineaux said interest rates for SBA loans range from 1.6 percent to 6 percent. Loans can be for terms as long as 30 years.
Liz MacKay, director of Small Business Advocacy for the New Jersey Department of State, highlighted state programs. MacKay took the audience through the state’s “business portal,” reached via the Internet at: www.newjerseybusiness.gov
“The whole purpose of the portal is to let you know what’s out there,” MacKay said.
She talked about aid programs not related to Sandy, too, such as an energy-saving program sponsored by the Board of Public Utilities that can pay for up to 70 percent of the costs of energy-saving features, programs geared to minority and female owned companies, and a link to state contracts that favor small businesses.
“We have a 25 percent goal to use small businesses. Register as a small business and you can be a contender for the 25 percent goal,” MacKay said.
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