The state has a new $20 million grant fund to help small businesses recover from natural disasters thanks to Whatcom County’s Business Recovery Task Force, co-led by CJ Seitz, director of Western’s Small Business Development Center.
Seitz and the task force used data to make the case that small businesses, particularly in rural communities, face a critical gap in assistance as they recover from natural disasters, such as Whatcom County’s devastating flood last fall.
Seitz approached Washington State Rep. Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, with the idea for state-funded grants for small businesses to help them recover from disaster. Rule then took the proposal to the State Legislature and it was included in the 2022 State Supplemental Budget.
The grants will go to small businesses for repairs, utilities and rent, marketing and advertising and other operations and business expense to help them recover from floods and other natural disasters. The funding includes $10 million set aside for small businesses in northwest Washington.
Seitz, ‘93, B.A., accounting and ‘06, MBA, has co-chaired the Business Recovery Taskforce since the November 2021 floods that devastated Everson, Nooksack and Sumas, along with parts of Lynden, Ferndale and Lummi Nation. The taskforce’s work showed that Whatcom County businesses suffered more than $15 million in uninsured damages to buildings and inventory.
“I heard from business owners firsthand,” Rule says, “but it was CJ’s thorough documentation and research that helped me get the idea on paper and eventually into the budget.”
The funds will be distributed through the Department of Commerce later this year. “My hope is that it gets to people as quickly as possible,” Rule says. “I know this funding is better late than never because businesses in Sumas and Everson are still trying to find ways to stay whole.”
The supplemental budget also includes an additional $900,000 in short-term disaster recovery for farmers and ranchers, who “just see a different kind of devastation,” Rule says.
Rule hopes the funds to help businesses recover from disasters serve as a model for the future.
“We know that there is more severe weather coming,” she says. “So now is really the time to make sure our businesses—the hearts of our communities—are resilient in the face of wildfires, floods and severe storms.”
The Business Recovery Task Force, co-led by Seitz and Port of Bellingham Economic Development Director Don Goldberg, includes mayors and other leaders of tribes, city, county, state and federal agencies, along with the Whatcom Community Foundation.
Seitz leads Western’s SBDC, which provides free, confidential business advising, market research and education to hundreds of small business owners and entrepreneurs each year in Whatcom and Kitsap counties.
Flood photo courtesy of Whatcom County