Friday, September 7, 2007

Governor to sign economic disaster declaration

Low-interest loans available for businesses affected by fire

Express Staff Writer

Businesses in danger of going under after suffering losses from the Castle Rock Fire may be eligible for low-interest federal loans.

Five local businesses have started the process so far and Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is poised to sign an economic disaster declaration to get the ball rolling, said state Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum.

"The governor's office is ready to go," Stennett said in a telephone interview.

The Castle Rock Fire started Aug. 1, from a lightening strike and burned more than 48,000 acres around Ketchum.

The loans, processed under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, are for small businesses only and cannot be used to fund expansion, said Mark Randle, information officer with the federal Small Business Administration. Randle said a "small business" is defined by the number of its employees and its gross annual sales, and those requirements vary depending on the type of industry. The loans, at 4 percent interest, can be for up to $1.5 million.

The criterion for approving loans is if "the business may be in jeopardy of staying in business," Randle said. He said the process will be expedited if business owners inform SBA representatives of the degree to which their sales are likely to be impacted by the fire.

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is helping collect economic injury worksheets from businesses suffering losses, and SBA representatives could be here as early as next week.

The Idaho Department of Commerce is a "pass-through" agency to get those forms to the SBA's Office of Disaster Assistance in Sacramento, Calif. That department already has the minimum five businesses required for the disaster declaration but is investigating whether there are more in the area.

"We are trying to include as many counties as we can," said Rodney Ashby, community development specialist with the commerce department.

Stennett said that at no time in recent memory had Blaine County come up against the type of economic angst the fire has caused. He said SBA loans were sought in 1977 following a winter drought that severely impacted the ski season.

"This is the closest we have been to that in 30 years," he said.

Chamber Executive Director Carol Waller said her agency knew businesses were suffering.

"We're working to do all we can to help businesses recover from the fire's impact during the last two weeks, especially from the loss of revenue over the Labor Day Weekend," she said.

Randle said loss of sales and working capital, resulting in an inability to pay ongoing expenses, are among the criteria SBA representatives consider.

Randle noted that the loans come directly from the U.S. government and "most cases are determined automatically."

Waller said it was a good time for people to think about local businesses.

"We are re-emphasizing our shop-local program, shop mom and pop," she said. "There has never been a more important time to support the community."

Anyone seeking help with the process or more information can contact Rodney Ashby or Jerry Miller at the Idaho Department of Commerce at (208) 334-2470.

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