There is a certain dose of grain among the mountain people. This is how Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers described the residents of Canton and Haywood County.
“We get up, not just on our own… but when someone reaches out and wants to help, it’s genuine,” Smathers said.
The courage, resilience, and restoration that Smathers spoke of have been part of Canton, not just over the past two months, but over the past 10 years.
“We fought for 10 years to make this industrial city viable again. “
Zeb Smathers, Mayor of Canton
According to Smathers, in 2013, Canton had an occupancy rate of around 20% in buildings in the city center, an area that also includes the River District. Smathers said that before Tropical Depression Fred on August 17, occupancy had reached nearly 85% and that they were all small businesses.
While Canton prides itself on being a manufacturing town, Smathers said Canton’s comeback came at the expense of small businesses.
So what happens when a small town like Canton suffers a disaster?
People come forward and support each other. Companies that may have been in competition before are coming together.
“You had businesses supporting businesses,” said Ashley Swanger, director of the Small Business Center at Haywood Community College.
Liz Rhine and Russ Grimmett, owners of Papertown Coffee in downtown Canton, said support was pouring in from customers and businesses.
“We’ve definitely seen the community come together,” said Rhine.
And the support was not one-sided. Grimett and Rhine received a donation that allowed them to provide free drinks to first responders during the week following the flooding.
Papertown Coffee suffered no property damage after the flooding and the store was able to reopen fairly quickly. But other companies in the region have not had the same experience.
Rhine mentioned Cold Mountain Art Collective, a small business in Canton, which opened just four days before the flood.
According to a social media post by Cold Mountain Art Collective, the water rose 16 inches in the gallery and 32 inches in the studio. While most of the artwork has been spared, the equipment has not.
BearWaters Brewing also suffered significant flood damage. The brewery is right next to the Pigeon River, and when the floodwaters increased that day, they did so quickly.
After weeks of cleaning up and helping other brewing communities, BearWaters Brewing reopened on October 1.
Cold Mountain Art Collective had a second grand opening on October 30.
Helping businesses after a flood
The process of recovering from a natural disaster is never quick. And the damage isn’t always just physical.
“People face what can be compared to grief. ”
Ashley Swanger, Director of Haywood Community College Small Business Center
Swanger is the new director of the Small Business Center (SBC) at Haywood Community College.
She stepped into the role just weeks after Fred hit the nail on the head and started connecting small businesses to all the resources available to them.
Swanger said she listened extensively to those whose businesses had been affected by the storm.
“People had a lot to say or were frustrated,” she said. “Sometimes that support is just being there to listen to someone when they have no idea what they need.”
But listening is not the only service offered. There are multiple resources available for businesses in Haywood County.
Haywood Strong, a program set up to support small businesses in disaster recovery, provides a small grant to qualified businesses. A working group reviews applications and initiates scholarships every two weeks within 90 days or until funds run out.
In addition to Haywood Strong, small businesses can apply for a loan through the Haywood Recovery Fund. Haywood County businesses affected by COVID-19 and Fred can apply.
As for other resources, the Small Business Center at Haywood Community College can help. Whether it’s brainstorming a new idea, creating a contingency plan, applying for loans, or closing or selling a business, the SBC is available to help owners navigate the entire cycle. life of their business.
Swanger said the SBC can help you even if you just have an idea scratched on a napkin.
Parts of western North Carolina were officially declared a federal disaster in early September due to Fred’s impact, meaning individuals and businesses have access to federal funding.
Residents affected by the storm in declared counties can apply for help through FEMA. The deadline to apply for FEMA assistance is November 8, 2021.
In addition to FEMA assistance, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is available to assist businesses of all sizes, private nonprofits, landlords and tenants. According to Haywood County, SBA disaster loans are the largest source of federal disaster recovery funds for survivors, providing long-term, low-interest disaster loans.
For residents of Haywood County, a Small Business Administration representative is located in the same building as the Small Business Center in the High-Tech Regional Building at Haywood Community College.
As businesses begin to reopen, only time will tell Fred’s full impact.
For Haywood Community College, some of these impacts are already apparent in online and sit-down courses.
Dr Shelley White, president of Haywood Community College, estimates that enrollment this fall has been affected by about 5% to 8% due to the flooding.
Even with the continued impacts of COVID, Haywood Community College was getting closer to declining enrollment compared to last fall. White suspects the college would have dropped only 2-4% in enrollment. But when Fred hit the second day of the fall semester, many students chose to take a break from their studies.
“We have seen an increase in the number of students who have withdrawn from class prematurely… or who just weren’t in attendance,” White said.
The college has created an individualized awareness plan for all of the students they have lost at some point during the fall semester. They have a list of students who may have been affected by the flooding, affected by COVID, or who have childcare or health care issues.
“Each community’s recovery time is going to be different during the pandemic. And now, with Haywood County, the flooding is going to have a lasting impact, ”White said.
When asked what the next step is for the city of Canton, Smathers first said it was the takeover.
“Our first job is to keep our communities safe and stable,” Samthers said. “We must rebuild our town hall, our police station, our fire station. ”
And the river?
“We are not abandoning the river,” Smathers said. “The river has been a blessing, not just for Evergreen Packaging… We have a small business there that has invested a lot of time in the tubes. It’s amazing what has become of outdoor recreation.