Groups rally to support businesses in recovery

The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC rallied business leaders, city and county officials, utility representatives and bankers to form a rapid response team for businesses affected by the fire.

The group, Pikes Peak Regional Business Recovery Team, already is looking for foundation money, grants, government funds and short-term loans to help small businesses affected by the Waldo Canyon fire keep their doors open.

“We want to make sure the business community is going to have resources and we have ways to communicate with them,” said Joe Raso, Chamber and EDC president and CEO.

Some businesses will have suffered structural damage and others will have watched store traffic grind to a halt. Either way, hundreds of Colorado Springs-area businesses are affected by the Waldo Canyon fire, Raso said.

“Business has slowed down significantly in some areas of the community, that can be devastating,” Raso said. “Many small businesses already have cash-flow concerns.”

And, disruption to business did not end when business owners and their employees were allowed back into their offices, he said. In some cases, supply chain was affected; orders were not shipped; and cash flow was interrupted.

“There will be businesses that close because of this disruption in service and we need to minimize that as much as possible,” Raso said. “That is why we worked quickly to bring in this group.”

The moment news broke about fire in Waldo Canyon, Raso was on the phone to organize the business recovery team, which also includes nonprofit groups, education institutions and homebuilders. Unfortunately, he said, he’s been through natural disaster before when he lived and worked in Iowa. Businesses are often forgotten in the initial assessment of losses, he said.

But, he said, the business recovery team will move in concert with the efforts to help homeowners, instead of waiting until after the fire is knocked down to assess the losses. By then, it would be too late for small businesses that temporarily closed their doors, he said.

More than 100 primary employers were evacuated last week, many off Garden of the Gods Road west of Interstate 25, as the Waldo Canyon fire roared dangerously close to manufacturing and warehouse businesses in that area.

There also were hundreds of small businesses, restaurants, shopping centers and hotels that closed for business too.

A few days of closure may not seem like a lot, said Jeff Beauprez, Colorado Networks president and CEO. But, he has clients affected by the west side evacuations whose expenses range from a few thousand dollars an hour to a $100,000 an hour.

His firm of engineers worked through the weekend to get businesses back up and running by Monday.

The business recovery team began an online survey this week of businesses to find out where they stand and identify their needs. The group also reached out to other cities that have been affected by natural disaster to learn of their process for business recovery, Raso said.

The long-term effects on business are far bigger than most imagine, said City Councilman Tim Leigh.

“This is a billion dollar impact or more,” he said.

Small businesses that live in a paycheck-to-paycheck mode will have a tougher time of it. A group of lenders, as part of the business recovery team, met Monday to make a plan that includes providing access to short-term loans, Leigh said.

“Anytime you put people out of business for a week, that is a huge impact,” Leigh said. “My concern is how it trickles down to the employees — what do we do for those folks? I can tell you from the Mayor to the City Council, we are very concerned about that.”

It will take months, maybe a year for businesses to recover, Raso said.

“This is being addressed in a holistic manner with all the necessary organizations,” he said. “This community, this region, and its elected officials recognize the significance of the aftermath of what this will mean to the business community. We are doing everything in our power to assist in ways so that there is the least amount of impact on them.”