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Agencies ready with aid for devastated businesses.

Less than five days after tornadoes plowed a 260-mile furrow of disaster through Arkansas on March 1, 162 businesses had applied for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

There were 61 businesses in Pulaski County that applied for SBA assistance and 39 in Clark County, says Jim Atkins, the public information officer at the SBA's office in Fort Worth, Texas.

"When you look at the devastation, the number of lives lost is just so small compared with what it could have been," says Blain Smith, executive director of the Arkadelphia Area Chamber of Commerce. "If this had happened at the same time on Friday, when everybody had been at the bank, or on Monday, Social Security day, you would had had massive loss of lives."

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured the destruction through much of the state last Tuesday.

"It just breaks your heart to see the devastation," says Witt, a Yell County native. "People have lost everything m just a few minutes."

FEMA had 175 inspectors in Arkansas last week.

The SBA provides loans to businesses at 4 percent interest. The maximum loan is $1.5 million, which can be used to supplement insurance. Witt estimated that half the people affected by the storms had insurance.

Aida Alvarez, the newly appointed administrator of the SBA who was in Arkansas last week, says owners of damaged businesses can expect to receive funds within a week of making an application. Alvarez says the SBA assists small-business owners on two levels: for damage to their businesses and for economic hardship.

"So, the loans help them not only restore their businesses, but help tide them over from a cash-flow standpoint until they get back on their feet," Alvarez says.

$200,000 Donated by Business

By last Wednesday, the state's businesses had donated almost $200,000 to the rebuilding cause.

AT&T Arkansas made probably the single largest gift, $100,000, to the American Red Cross.

Mercantile Bank of Arkansas gave $15,000 and Boatmen's Arkansas Inc., First Commercial Bank, KATV-TV, Channel 7, and Home Quarters donated $10,000 each to a fund established by KATV and the Arkansas Bankers Association. That fund had received more than $80,000 by late Wednesday.

Smith says at least 45 Arkadelphia business were completely destroyed, but the town's residents are very positive about the prospects for recovery.

Arkadelphia had more than 1,000 full-time or part-time jobs within the four-block radius in downtown that was destroyed, Smith says.

Clark County had an unemployment rate of only 2 percent. Smith believes there will be plenty of opportunities for people who have lost jobs to find work in Arkadelphia.

RELATED ARTICLE: FEMA to Prepare Cities for Disaster

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is scheduled to attend a conference in San Diego next month that will help businesses and industry be prepared for such disasters as the tornadoes that ripped through Arkansas on March 1.

"We're really pulling industry in with us in partnership," says Witt, in Arkansas last week to inspect the damage done by the storms. "Because, when industry shuts down, you shut down people's jobs. You shut down the economy of a community."

The conference will address what businesses can do to help themselves and their employees in times of disaster.

This year and in 1998, FEMA plans to do pre-disaster mitigation projects in high-risk communities likely to be hit by an earthquake, fire, hurricane or tornado, Witt says.

"Industry, federal government and local government will do a town hall meeting," Witt says. "We'll point out the major risks in that community, and we're going to work with you to eliminate that risk, to keep you from becoming a disaster community. If we can do this, then it will save millions and millions of dollars in the future.

"In every project we've done since 1993, we've documented that every dollar spent on mitigation saves two dollars in future disaster loss."
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Title Annotation:business loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration
Author:Smith, David
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 10, 1997
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