Our hearts go out to all those who lost homes and so much in the Thomas Fire disaster. While the emergency isn’t over, it is both humbling and inspiring to witness the outpouring of understanding, support and spirit for a shared recovery for all.
On the business side, we’ve been far more fortunate in escaping immediate material loss. Still, the impacts are profound and will be long-lasting.
Lost Sales: The most significant impact to our economy—both now and moving forward—is the interruption to regular commerce, with small retailers and service firms suffering the greatest losses. The fire couldn’t have come at a worse time. The National Retail Federation reports that the holiday season represents more than 20 percent of retailers’ sales. For some shops, jewelry stores, for example, the share is closer to 30 percent.
Small businesses in Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Carpinteria, Summerland and much of Santa Barbara have been shut down, with business at a standstill. Those that manage to be open are finding very little consumer traffic. Our concern is that the pattern for lost sales may continue, as visitors may avoid the region for some time. The impacts may be particularly acute to hospitality and tourism, and the retailers and service firms that depend on visitation.
The Economic Context: It will be months before we have a reliable economic impact, though here’s some narrow, but considerable context to consider:
- Retail alone in Ventura County employs some 39,000 workers, or 12 percent of the region’s jobs, and represents more than six percent of our total regional economy.
- Other Services represents another 10,000 jobs.
- For the impacted west county communities of Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula and Fillmore, the fire’s impacts may reverberate to more than 10,000 jobs in just these two sectors alone.
- In the Ojai Valley, the leisure and hospitality sector is at a standstill, impacting some 1,300 jobs and 30 percent of the Valley’s economy.
What’s the Path Forward?
- Most immediately, we’re advising impacted businesses to do four things:
- For business technical assistance,including access to capital, contact our Small Business Development Center, 805-409-9159, email@example.com. We have professional, no cost business advising services immediately available. We will also be a point of contact for information and referral for other Small Business Administration and FEMA assistance for business as it becomes available. We’ve added a link to our website, http://edc-vc.com/, for direct client registration for services and links to other resources. We’ll be adding to this regularly as additional state and federal resources become available.
- Business Insurance: If you’ve had any interruption in service or lost sales, immediately inform your insurance agent and determine whether you have any coverage. You may or may not be covered, but for accessing any future disaster assistance, it may be critical that you’ve made and exhausted any insurance claims.
- Unemployment: If you—as a self-employed person—or any of your employees has lost work, immediately file or advise your workers to file for unemployment insurance. Be sure to indicate the first date of lost work and clearly state that the fire is the cause for the loss. Click here for information on how or where to file for unemployment insurance.
- Register for information at http://venturacountyrecovers.org/.For access to a comprehensive set of services and information, we recommend you check in at the Local Assistance Center, in Ventura at the Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Road, Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There is also a satellite center open in Ojai, at 401 South Ventura Street, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00p.m. We will have Small Business Development Center representatives at these sites on a rotating basis.
- More detail to come on State and Federal resources: Click here for the Business Recovery Resources document from CalOES and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. This is only a preliminary summary of resources, pending additional regional assessment by FEMA and the US Small Business Administration. We anticipate a broader menu of resources will soon be available, but it’s dependent first on the assessment, final declaration and direction to SBA, which is not yet completed by the federal agencies. Please check with us regularly and we’ll post updates as they become available. Meanwhile the guide provides contact detail and information on a broad set of issues.
- Whatever You Do, Buy Local! As noted above, the greatest economic impact to the business community is by lost sales during the holiday period and lingering ahead. We know that the sales can’t be made up in just a few weeks’ time. Knowing that, we appeal to everyone to do their best in shopping local, investing in our local merchants and communities. Our partners at the Chambers of Commerce, Visitors and Convention Bureau, Downtown Organizations, cities and county are all collaborating to promote buy local campaigns. These efforts will extend into the new year, so please keep your local businesses in mind not just now, but continuously.
EDC-VC Specific Activities: At this point, our primary activities are:
- Getting our word out to partners and businesses, and providing professional business guidance and technical assistance.
- Helping federal, state and local agencies identify and assess impacts to the region.
- Coordinating the efficient delivery of service of all kinds to business. We have added a new landing page on our website for business disaster assistance. We’ll be adding to this on a regular basis, so check back frequently.
On Lending: We’re working on the implementation of a new, short-term business interruption assistance loan program, and expanding our resources in lending generally. Meanwhile, we approved our first short-term business recovery loan, using existing capital resources.
Finally, we know that recovery from this kind of disaster is a long-term consideration. Here’s to a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable Ventura County economy.