Who knew after 4 days of rain and 4.5 feet of water in Janice and Bobby Jucker’s family business, Three Brothers Bakery, that they would become passionate advocates for small business survivorship after natural disasters? After taking approximately $750,000 in SBA Disaster loans due to Hurricane Harvey, Three Brothers Bakery became eligible for the 2018 SBA Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery. When receiving the award, the Juckers realized it could help them amplify the troubles of small businesses after disasters. They now work to share with other businesses how to be prepared before a disaster and what to do should you be hit by a disaster. Additionally, they have identified policy changes, at both the state and federal levels, that would help this forgotten segment in the resiliency quotient. Lastly, they want to start a movement to “Shop Disaster Zones,” and help businesses in these financially devastated areas recover economically.
The Juckers applied for the SBA Phoenix Award as a way to help spread the message of what small businesses go through after disasters. They have seen many, many businesses close due to Hurricane Harvey. “After natural disasters everyone works hard to get people back in their homes, paying their rents and mortgages, and then their employer goes out of business,” said Janice Jucker. The Juckers know many in the food and retail industry that were unable to hang on until the community recovered because they are low margin and do not tend to have much of a safety net in the bank. And it is their employees, most hourly, who lose their jobs and can least afford it.
When governments and institutions work toward disaster recovery, the small business seems to be a forgotten segment. The Juckers want to change that mindset. During the 2021 Texas legislature, they are going to try to get passed Emergency Bridge Loans, activated by the Governor of Texas modeled after the Florida program. This would loan short term cash to the small business owner, which could be used to pay their employees. At a federal level suspension of payroll tax for a period after federally declared disasters would put needed cash in both the pockets of the small business owner and the employee.
After a policy conference at The PEW Research Institute’s Flood Prepared Communities Project, the Jucker’s learned there is a 6:1 return on investment for every dollar spent on mitigation, and flooding is the costliest disaster to taxpayers in the United States. The Juckers are now talking with lawmakers about multi-flooded businesses and the return on investment to the taxpayer to move them.
Janice Jucker has now sat on many panels and given talks about small business resiliency. She advises businesses to be prepared with a long list of things they should do, with the top 3 being:
- Read your insurance policies cover to cover, with a highlighter, BEFORE a disaster;
- Keep employee contact information in the cloud, so it can be easily accessed;
- Try to have 3 months of cash in the bank – you can only pay your team with cash, and the rest can be put on credit cards (so have high credit limits).
Recovery has 4 categories to be addressed:
- People – find the team and pay them and make sure they get the help they might need;
- Money – is there enough cash to get through short term and long term, and if not, how will recovery be funded;
- Equipment/Vehicles/Inventory – assess damage and start repairs replacement;
- Return to Operations – clean up and communicate with your team and your customers about what is the plan to reopen and a timeframe, if possible.
While in Washington, D.C. accepting their award, the Juckers encouraged the attendees to “Shop Disaster Zones,” meaning find a business in a disaster area that ships and shop with them to help them recover economically because their communities are financially devastated. It was at that dinner that they met the team from VISA, and it was their story which inspired VISA to put a spotlight on small business resiliency. The bakery can be seen with the launch of VISA’s back to business project – visa.com/backtobusiness, which identifies open businesses for up to 3 months after a federally declared disaster.
To put it in perspective, Three Brothers Bakery was on a growth trajectory after adding stores in 2012 and 2014. That growth was put on hold as three floods in less than three years decimated the area they serve in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Hurricane Harvey proved to be the hardest recovery both physically and economically. Until recently the Juckers were told only 30% of the people lived in the area around the bakery and now that number is up to 50%. The Juckers say it will be 5-8 years after Harvey to have the community close to 90%-100% repopulated.