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SBA Honors Outstanding Disaster Recovery Efforts


WASHINGTON – A Joplin, Mo. chamber of commerce leader who guided the economic recovery of the city in the aftermath of a devastating tornado, a Missouri trio whose gymnastics facility was destroyed before they had a chance to open, and a Louisiana parish president who calmly managed the evacuation and rebuilding of the community following Hurricane Isaac were each presented with Phoenix Awards today during a U.S. Small Business Administration National Small Business Week breakfast event sponsored by Office Depot.

Since 1998, the SBA has presented Phoenix Awards to business owners, public officials and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.

“These individuals demonstrated tremendous courage and resourcefulness in the midst of several devastating disasters,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills.  “The Phoenix Award acknowledges their heroic efforts and is a symbol of appreciation for their contributions to the economic recovery of their communities.”

Rob O’Brian, President, Joplin Chamber of Commerce, received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official.  On May 22, 2011, the deadliest tornado in U.S. history destroyed or badly damaged more than 550 businesses in Joplin. A huge portion of the city’s tax base was reduced to rubble along with thousands of jobs in jeopardy.  After securing a space for the SBA’s Business Recovery Center (BRC), O’Brian directed his staff to canvass the hardest hit areas and make phone calls to find out what each business needed to recover.  Within three weeks, O’Brian and his team had talked to more than 420 business owners, steering most of them to the SBA’s BRC where they could apply for SBA disaster loans, and get counseling on how to build a more resilient business. 

The chamber also sponsored business recovery expos that covered topics including business plan development, overcoming post-disaster rebuilding challenges, and tips on starting a new business.   Today, out of the 553 businesses at risk of closing, 500 of those companies remain operating.  More than 90 percent of the jobs impacted by the storm remain in place and 40 new businesses have opened.

Natalie H. Robottom, St. John the Baptist Parish President received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official. 

When the National Weather Service issued the first Hurricane Isaac warning to the southeast  Louisiana area on August 26, 2012, Robottom took action.  She coordinated with local officials to secure road barricades in anticipation of flooding, and executed door-to-door evacuation efforts.  The parish president also shared storm updates with residents via press releases and social media. Within three days, more than 3,000 residents and 200 pets were evacuated. Hurricane Isaac’s wake left five feet of floodwater, mountains of debris, power outages and an emotionally devastated community. 

After organizing the distribution of food, ice, water and tarps, Robottom worked with SBA, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the local SBA Small Business Development Center to establish a Business Recovery Center. She connected with an association that educated residents about building contractor fraud, and set up a volunteer center where the elderly and disabled could get help.  Meanwhile, Robottom went to Washington D.C., to testify before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to advocate for levee protection and parish recovery.  With an uplifting message and a determination to rebuild better and stronger, Robottom was tireless in her efforts to make St. John the Baptist Parish whole again.

Kip Johnson, Paul Comstedt and Derek Hammeke of Joplin, Mo., received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery.

A few days before the grand opening of Amplify Gymnastics, co-owner Kip Johnson, his father and uncle stopped by the gym to complete some last minute touches.  It was May 22, 2011. They narrowly escaped death when a catastrophic tornado packing 250 mph winds tore through Joplin.  More than 20 percent of the city was destroyed, and 160 people were killed.  The two-ton truck the men used as a makeshift storm shelter was tossed 20 feet. A concrete slab was all that remained of the gym. 

Kip and his partners Paul Comstedt and Derek Hammeke were faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the gym they had envisioned as a place where local kids could get training for their bodies and mentoring for their lives. The trio decided to move forward and got an SBA disaster loan for $256,100. The loan covered rebuilding costs and operating expenses. In February 2012, Amplify held its grand opening with an enrollment of more than 200 youth athletes. Within a few months, 300 more people had joined the gym, surpassing Amplify’s five-year goal. The gym’s initial staff of 10 grew to 23, and the partners are planning an expansion. 

SBA makes low-interest, taxpayer-backed disaster loans to homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profit organizations of all sizes.  More information about the disaster assistance program is available at www.sba.gov/disaster

Every year since 1963, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight through National Small Business Week the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories.  This year’s events will be held June 17-21, in Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. offering tips, tools and trainings for small businesses to start, succeed and grow.  In addition to in-person events, small business owners can participate in online-only panel discussions on hot topics like social media and business financing starting daily at 4pm ET. All events, in-person and online, will be streamed live on www.sba.gov/smallbusinessweek. Also visit this site for a full schedule of events and additional information. The event hashtag is #SBW2013.

Small Business Week 2013 sponsors include: Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, National Association of the Self Employed (NASE), Arlington Texas Chamber of Commerce, AT&T, ADP, AARP, LegalShield, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders (NAGGL),SCORE, Western Pennsylvania Small Business Network, Staples, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., Visa, Women Impacting Public Policy(WIPP),Staples, SuperMedia, TXU Energy, Verizon, Vox Global, Business Forward and Office Depot.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s participation in this cosponsored activity does not constitute an express or implied endorsement of any cosponsor’s, donor’s, grantee’s, contractor’s or participant’s opinions, products, or services. All SBA programs and cosponsored programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis. Reasonable arrangements for persons with disabilities will be made, if requested at least 2 weeks in advance, by contacting smallbusinessweek@sba.gov. Cosponsorship Authorization #SBW2013.

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