As businesses in the area are grappling with damage and reopening efforts, the Sarasota Economic Development Corp. has been doing what it can to help ease the burden. Even something as simple as listening has been a powerful resource.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the State Emergency Response Team created a business damage assessment survey after Hurricane Ian left many businesses closed and in the dark. The Sarasota County EDC has been collecting the data for the county and, in partnership with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, has been reaching out to businesses that need it.
The primary issue they've run into so far is businesses without internet access or cell availability. In response, the EDC created a “helpline” to help file data on businesses’ behalf and arranged a partnership so business owners can use computers at the SunCoast Technical College to fill out the survey there. Every business that responds to the survey has the option of receiving a personal phone call to understand their needs and situation better.
As of Oct. 7, 148 businesses had filled out the survey. So far, the team had assessed over $5.5 million in estimated damage for Sarasota County businesses alone. “I think that’s just scratching the surface,” EDC VP of business development services Erin Silk says. The EDC and Chamber have stayed on top of those survey responses, as all but 39 businesses, which did not request a call, had received a personal call.
The needs they’re seeing are vast. A daycare needed a fence repair to reopen. Some businesses needed help with marketing to let people know they were open.
“I had a company I’ve known for a long time that was trying to get into the SBA website and just having a tough time with the password,” Silk says. “You just really felt for them. After everything they’ve gone through to just not be able to get in to their login. I heard it in his voice.”
“It” being all of the emotions one feels after going through a natural disaster and having to rebuild.
“What we’re finding is that people really want to share their story. They want to tell us what’s happened to them,” Krouse says. “It’s really hard to be on the other end, to listen to the stories. The stories have been tough to hear.”
“We’ve heard the storm through so many different eyes.”