“Florida Has Many Resources For Businesses, Before And After Irma,” Says DEO Chief

In the past, many looming storms were met with a dangerous element: complacency.

“Not so with Hurricane Irma, said Cissy Proctor,” executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. “Everyone is being vigilant and paying attention to what’s going on with this storm and taking it seriously.”

She has an important message to share with the thousands of Florida business owners, employees and their families: The state has resources to help with planning and recovery. One critical source of help is the Florida Virtual Business Emergency Operations Center website.

“Businesses can go onto that website and sign up to receive all kinds of alerts and be on a call happening daily with private sector businesses,” Proctor said.

On that call, business owners can ask questions and share a wide range of information and get updates from partners like the Small Business Development Centers, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, Visit Florida and others. Proctor’s focus as Irma approaches is to make sure safety and thoughtful planning are a priority for business owners and their employees.

“Just like families need a plan, business owners need to have a plan to back up data, take pictures of their physical spaces. If they have to close an office, is the office as secure as it can be? Are computers off the floor?”

There is a lot of discussion around communicating with employees and if there’s damage to the business, what will the employees need to know? She also encourages business owners to receive updates on the websites of their local county emergency operations command centers.

Leading up to Irma, Proctor said she has spent time talking to people in Texas about their experience with Hurricane Harvey, and Tuesday with Dept. of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. After the storm, the U.S. Department of Labor is ready to provide assistance to those who lost their jobs as a result of the disaster, to make sure unemployment benefits flow quickly to those in need.

After a storm, the DEO works with Florida’s Small Business Development Centers around the state on the Florida Small Business Bridge Loan Program. In it, zero-interest loans on short terms are made available up to $25,000. The 90- to 100-day terms allow a business, say a flooded restaurant, get its refrigeration systems back up to speed fast and get their employees back to work.

“When a business is able to recover faster, the communities as a whole recover faster,” Proctor said.

Another service deployed in days after storms is a mobile unit of Florida’s workforce boards. Units are deployed to hard-hit areas to help workers and their managers apply for assistance, find new jobs and get answers to a range of questions.

Proctor has firsthand experience with hurricane damage. When Hurricane Hermine hit Tallahassee a year ago Labor Day, a pine tree hit her house and crushed the car of a house guest. She believes she was lucky compared to what many businesses, their owners and employees may be facing as Hurricane Irma bears down.


Source: SFBJ

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