Shoring up small businesses

Small businesses were hard hit by Hurricanes Irma and María in September of 2017 and by the many months of no electric power service that followed.

A share of businesses was never able to overcome the many obstacles faced after the catastrophe. Yet, a majority were able to survive with the help of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and many nonprofit organizations that came to their aid. The Corporation for the Entrepreneurial Financing of Commerce and Communities (COFECC, Spanish acronym) was one of the organizations that rapidly stepped up its efforts to address the needs of its 300 small business clients and other businesses.

COFECC is a nonprofit organization certified by the IRS as a 501c3 entity that has been helping small businesses in Puerto Rico since 1982. It is certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and by the SBA to offer loans under the 504 Program. It also serves an intermediary for the Rural Intermediary Relending Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, COFECC is a micro-lending institution funded by the SBA to offer loans from $500 to startup small businesses. It also operates a micro-lending program for low-income women funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and offers its borrowers under the microlending programs business technical assistance free of cost throughout the life of their loan. “COFECC also offers a Practical Entrepreneurship Academy free of cost for low income people that want to learn how to start their small business with a holistic and practical approach,” said Giovanna Piovanetti, Executive President of COFECC.

COFECC mobilized the staff quickly after hurricane María to assess the status of businesses in the organization’s portfolio. COFECC had a diverse portfolio from small mini-markets in rural communities, small retail stores, restaurants and a large variety of service businesses. With no electricity for months it was hard for these businesses to return to normal and avoid the staggering expenses of running generators round the clock for months on end.

When they realized they had an opportunity to increase the assistance provided to the small business borrowers, they submitted a grant proposal to United for Puerto Rico. “We knew recovery would be impaired if small businesses could not survive,” stated Mariely Rivera, Executive Director of United for Puerto Rico.
COFECC received a donation of $63,840 to bolster this economic sector. COFECC divided the funds into two programs: the first, directed to provide economic incentives of $1,000 to 50 businesses who had suffered significant losses and needed cash to restore their operations. The economic incentive was principally to cover operational expenses related to business recovery, including the acquisition of power generators, hurricane debris removal and disposition as well as other hurricane related expenses not covered by the insurance companies.
“With the remaining funds, we developed a series of workshops to aid in small business resiliency and recovery. For example, how to develop an emergency plan for business technology, the handling of staff after a disaster, marketing tools after the hurricane, financial tools and support related to the hurricane, renewable energy alternatives and the motivation of the business owner and employees after a disaster, and other related subjects,” explained Giovanna, who added that the workshops were held in different regions of Puerto Rico and free of cost for all the business community.

For more information on COFECC, which is in the process of adopting a new brand under the name Lendreams, you may visit www.lendreams.com and for more information on United for Puerto Rico, you may visit www.unitedforpuertorico.com.

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