[StBernard] Hurricane Katrina leaves lessons for small-business owners

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Sep 20 11:44:09 EDT 2011

Hurricane Katrina leaves lessons for small-business owners

Published: Saturday, September 17, 2011, 6:00 PM    

Updated: Saturday, September 17, 2011, 7:05 PM

 By Times-Picayune Staff 

Mindy Nunez Airhart, marketing director for Southern Services & Equipment
Inc. in St. Bernard Parish, credits federal contracts with helping keep the
company afloat after Hurricane Katrina. But testifying before Sen. Mary
Landrieu's Small Business Committee last week, Nunez Airhart had some
recommendations to help small businesses recover faster from a major

After Katrina destroyed Southern Services' building and its equipment, Nunez
Airhart said the company was able to get sole-source emergency construction
contracts from the Army Corps of Engineers. "As corps personnel learned that
our company performed tasks on time and on budget, we earned their trust and
began to get a larger share of the hurricane recovery contracts," she said.

But with the federal emergency contracts the "only work available," her firm
quickly exceeded the maximum percentage of federal contract work to qualify
for the sole source contracts. She also said the company is struggling to
repay its Small Business Administration loan.

"In our case, we used our SBA business loan to buy new machinery and
equipment, office furniture and computers to replace those ruined by
floodwaters," Nunez Airhart said. "However, this loan must be repaid, and to
have to make a loan to repurchase everything you already paid for is
financially devastating." Landrieu, D-La., promised to look at ways to help
small businesses recover faster after a major disaster.

Bruce Alpert can be reached at balpert at timespicayune.com or 202.450.1406.
Jonathan Tilove can be reached at jtilove at timespicayune.com or 202.450.1404.

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