Uncertainity grips some businesses


"People look to our organizations to help take the lead in restoring a sense of normalcy at a time of crisis."

—Sally Haas

Business advocacy groups are working to ensure all types of businesses are able to survive in a time of uncertainty.

Businesses in cities and towns far removed from New York City or Washington, DC, are facing challenges in rebounding from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"People look to our organizations to help take the lead in restoring a sense of normalcy at a time of crisis," said Sally Haas, president of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce. "Information empowers our organization and our members."

In Pennsylvania, a group of several local chamber of commerce organizations sent an e-mail survey to businesses to find out how they are struggling and what type of assistance they need, according to Pam Golden, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, one of the business groups involved. The survey, which received 405 responses, showed that almost half, 47 percent, of those who responded saw their companies as being in a favorable position. Prior to Sept. 11, 57 percent of businesses saw themselves in a favorable position.

"We find the results of this snapshot encouraging and perhaps somewhat surprising," said Barbara McNees, president and chief operating officer of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. "Many local companies, large and small, say they intend to move forward with hiring plans, despite the soft economy."

Of those who responded to the survey, 15 percent planned to reduce staffing levels, while 18 percent reported they were in a "wait-and-see" mode.

"The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance will use these results to guide the services we provide to our clients in the months ahead," said Ronnie Bryant, president and chief operating officer of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. "We hope the survey will be a tool for our fellow economic development and membership organizations in the region."

Meanwhile, chamber of commerce organizations closer to New York City are facing a much more daunting task of helping their local businesses, which were more directly impacted by the attacks. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce has set up a Small Business Recovery Fund to provide financial assistance to small businesses hit hard by the terrorist attacks, said Nancy Ploeger, a spokesperson for the organization.

The fund is a collaborative effort of chamber groups across New York State, and was initiated by the New York State Chamber Alliance.

"We were besieged by calls from many chambers eager to help the victims of the World Trade Center disaster," said Denise Murphy McGraw, executive director of the Chamber Alliance of New York State (CANYS). "The Manhattan Chamber is a CANYS member, so we immediately thought of them."

CANYS contacted all chambers in the state of New York while at the same time fielding queries from chambers throughout the U.S. and Canada. "We suggested that they lend support to a fellow chamber by joining the Manhattan chamber in helping their members get back on their feet," McGraw said.

The fund has already provided emergency grants to businesses and is working to continue to locate others in need. "We are reaching out to all of our members who have fewer than 10 employees to find out who has been directly impacted," said Don Winter, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce president. "We want to help keep them afloat until their insurance, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money or loans kick in. We want to make sure that small businesses do not fall through the cracks."

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has also recognized the widespread impact of the terrorist attacks on businesses, and as a result has widened the access to Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Currently, only areas that have been declared disaster areas by President George W. Bush have been eligible for disaster loans, which may be up to $l.5 million per business.

"As a result of the events of September 11th, President Bush recognized the need to help businesses beyond the immediate disaster area," said SBA Administrator Hector Barreto. "I've heard from small business owners all over the country who have suffered losses. The President believes that the wider availability of these loans will provide the necessary capital small businesses need in a quick and efficient manner. With the expansion of SBA's economic injury disaster loan program, small businesses across the country can receive help."

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