Wilmington business owner Shannon Hodge didn't have the means to recover from Hurricane Florence on her own.
"I don't have the resources," Hodge, owner of the College of Wilmington, explained Wednesday morning to Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration and a member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet.
McMahon, a native of New Bern and a graduate of Eastern Carolina University, traveled to Wilmington on Wednesday morning, accompanied by North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, taking a tour of the FEMA disaster recovery center and an SBA center at Independence Mall.
When McMahon asked Hodge how much damage Hodge's business, a school at the mall that offers training in cosmetology, massage therapy and electronic health records, sustained during Hurricane Florence, Hodge said the total so far has been about $35,000. That's from water coming in from the ceiling and being pushed inside by the storm's winds.
"That's a big hit, a big hit to the bottom line," McMahon said to Hodge.
An SBA disaster loan has helped Hodge get back up and running.
"This was an excellent resource to have," Hodge said.
McMahon, a billionaire who co-founded World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) with her husband, Vince McMahon, said she understands the struggles small businesses can face.
Her advice for after the storm: "You just have to get back in. And that's easier said than done. I've never recovered from a physical disaster like this, but I've recovered from bankruptcy, when you've lost everything," McMahon said during her visit in Wilmington. "It's not how you fall, it's how you get back up, and hopefully you'll be able to get some assistance either from the SBA or FEMA or from traditional lenders for your business and to get back in your home."
SBA officials said nearly $98 million in loans had been approved as of Wednesday in the state of North Carolina as a result of Hurricane Florence. Of that, the SBA has approved 349 home loans in New Hanover County for a total of about $11.5 million, and 14 business loans, including physical damage and economic injury loans, for a total of $1.15 million.
James Rivera, SBA office of disaster assistance associate administrator, said the SBA disaster office averages about $1 billion in lending a year, with $7.2 billion in loans granted because of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Hurricane Matthew resulted in about $100 million in SBA lending.
Rivera, who has been working to get the word out about the SBA's direct disaster lending
, said typically, 90 percent of the disaster loans go to homeowners, 10 percent to small businesses. Renters and nonprofit organizations are also eligible, he said.
Homeowners and businesses who want to apply can find out more information via the SBA's Hurricane Florence web page
or visit the SBA center at the mall in Wilmington.
The number of applications is expected to grow in the region and in the state. Some business owners have been busy working on the personal fallout from the storm first, explained Lynn Douthett, SBA district director based in Charlotte.
"People are still taking care of their primary residences and their families," she said. "Probably when a lot of those things get squared away, we'll see an uptick in applications and people getting their information together to apply for the loans."
An SBA Business Recovery Center is open
at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, 1 Estelle Lee Place in downtown Wilmington. An additional center in the tri-county region is in Brunswick County, at Brunswick Community College's Odell Williamson Auditorium, 150 College Road NE in Bolivia.
"Any business, not just small businesses, can get up to $2 million. Homeowners can get up to $200,000, and renters can get property loss for up to $40,000," McMahon said. "It's really critical to try to get some of these businesses back on their feet because a lot of times you know, they're the supply chains for other businesses, so how do you continue to deliver your goods and services when you have that break? And communities are very dependent and reliant on their small businesses ... Whose name do you see on the back of the little league shirt? It's a small business."
Among her stops Wednesday, McMahon met with officials at Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank, the largest SBA lender in the U.S. in terms of dollar volume, before visiting the recovery centers at the mall, where she spoke to FEMA and SBA disaster loan officials about their processes for helping people.
"It's really important, I think, to get on the ground and to come to the areas where our folks are jumping in to help with the disaster recovery, meeting face to face with folks who have experienced the disasters and [there's] something very beneficial about being able to sit with them one-on-one," McMahon said.