Freeport business owners 'do not know where to turn' after Dorian


Tribune Freeport Reporter

BUSINESS owners in Freeport say they do not know how they will recover and resume their operations after such a devastating blow from Hurricane Dorian.

Many small businesses were not insured and lost everything – their entire inventory and equipment were destroyed when storm surge swept through the business sector of Queen’s Highway, and all the way into downtown Freeport.

One business operator of 30 years described the situation for his business as being on “life support,” after having to borrow cash from family and friends to relocate to smaller premises, while another reported that his business was “totally devastated” and has nowhere turn to for help.

“We never thought we would be devastated like this,” said Craig Malone. “So, I know we all in the same boat, we do not know where to turn – and I am kind of lost.”

The Grand Bahama Port Authority executives president Ian Rolle and CFO Deanne Seymour met with business licensees on Thursday, hosting business sector meeting at 11am in the parking lot of GBPA Headquarters Building in downtown to hear their concerns regarding the recovery and resumption of their businesses in the aftermath Dorian.

There are some 3,000 licensees of the GB Port Authority.

According to Mrs Seymour, who also serves as Licensing Chairman, an exercise was held two weeks after the storm, with their team canvassing various areas conducting surveys amongst their licensees.

They were able to survey at least 1,000 of those licensees, she reported.

“We have a base of just about 3,000 licensees so…we have a big task ahead of us,” she told licensees.

She noted that they mainly wanted to know what damages they have, whether or not they were insured, when they would be reopening, or undecided, and what their immediate business needs were.

She noted the survey revealed that power was one of the immediate business needs identified by licensees.

Mrs Seymour said that they realized that some businesses in close vicinity of each other experienced different levels of flooding.

“The level of devastation was quite different, like how can eight feet of water be in one business and four feet in the other. So…it was kind of mindboggling but we really want to hear from our licensees and get their experiences,” she said.

Orthland Strachan, operator of Compusec Printing located in Arcade Building, said that annual business licence fees need to be addressed in an effort to assist those small businesses affected at this difficult time.

“I think for many of us that needs to be addressed,” he said, adding that he has been in operating since ‘89 and that his annual business license fees with the PA has been up to date every year.

“Right now, I am on life support,” he said.

Mr Strachan said that he had no insurance and lost all of his equipment. “People are asking what I can do for you, I say to them if you want to help me give me cash. I need to replace my equipment. And for all of us that is where we are, we need money. That is the only way we are going to get our business up and running,” Mr Strachan told GBPA executives.

He also complained that banks are not lending businesses any money, and that the rent charged by landlords are too high in Freeport.

“Maybe our properties have been devalued here in Grand Bahama after the Hurricane and they will not look at our assets to grant us loans,” he said. “Thank God if you have family or good friends with cash to assist, and that’s what’s been happening with me to try to get relocated and get it back up and going.”

He further said: “Paying $2,500 and $3,000 rent on a monthly basis to a landlord – no more will I do it. Dorian has pushed me to a point where I know enough is enough,” he said.

In response to Strachan’s concerns about getting a loan, President Rolle indicated that the GBPA has been speaking with a financial institution in regards as to how they can guarantee funds for small businesses in Grand Bahama.

He said: “Those discussions are ongoing, but you will have to qualify. They require some level of accountability, we don’t know what the qualifications are, but you will have to qualify.”

Mr Rolle said that GBPA expects the economy to pick up significantly, and mentioned the Carnival port project, and RCL and ITM intent to purchase the Grand Lucayan and redevelopment of the Freeport Harbour.

He noted that GBPA is committed to finding ways to start commerce again. “A lot of people have left the island and it is really imperative to figure how to help you all get back in business as soon as possible so employees can also come back to the island,” he said.

President Rolle said that they see the Carnival deal as a major stimulus to the Grand Bahama economy. He also reported that the Port has approved their master plan.

“They are on the ground with engineers… and I expect a lot of economic activity happening as a result of that project. The government has also stated that RCL and ITM are still keen about Grand Lucaya and redevelopment of the existing harbour.

Mr Rolle explained that in terms of licence fees they are aware that some persons are struggling, while others are doing very well following the storm.

“We have to analyze who has been truly affected by the storm and do the necessary thing either adjusting your business licence fees, or writing some of the cost off,” he said.

Auto repair shop operator Craig Malone, however, was not so fortunate and has to start over. His repair shop located next to Waugh Construction, near Queens Highway, was completely destroyed.

“It was totally devastated – everything,” he said at the meeting. “It is a troublesome thing; it was where I made my bread and butter. I don’t get a paycheck or salary. I work on vehicles and I get paid. If I don’t work on them, I go home with nothing. Well it’s been over a month now and I go home with nothing.”

“So, I don’t know what the next step is. We are all in same boat together,” Mr Malone said. “I lost all my equipment, and all my tools that did not get destroyed were looted. I am basically going to start again. I just looking for assistance,” he said. “We never thought we would be devastated like this. So, I know we all in the same boat we do not know where to turn, and I am kind of lost,” he stated.

Mr Malone said he has gone to the CA Smith Building to apply for a small business incentive, but the process “with government it takes forever.”

Mrs Seymour said that the funding the Port Authority is seeking to put in place has not been firmed up as yet, but should assist persons like Mr Malone. She also told licensees that the government has exigency forms A B and C from which businesses can benefit.