September 13, 2019
Businesses Relief: A Year of Recovery and Collaboration

More than 800 small businesses in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover were directly affected – and hundreds more indirectly – by last September’s devastating gas explosions.

  • A broad Coalition came together quickly and organically to align resources, develop strategies, and implement solutions. The Coalition includes the City of Lawrence, Towns of Andover and North Andover, Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), Lawrence Partnership, EforAll / EparaTodos, Mill Cities Community Investments (MCCI), Merrimack Valley Career Center, and Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC), along with assistance from our state and federal delegations.
  • With so much disruption widespread across the community people were left to scramble to simply get through the day. That had a direct impact on business. The store where they normally bought their bread and milk may have lost its inventory; the favorite pizza shop was temporary closed and the hairdresser was struggling to re-open. So after first helping businesses get what they needed to re-open we then set out to bring customers back.
  • Through the coalition’s advocacy, Columbia Gas provided $10 million in three distinct funds. Called the Greater Lawrence Business Relief Effort, the funds included:
    • $2 million Acute Fund was established to address many of the immediate needs of affected businesses.
    • $6 million Municipal Fund was distributed evenly for the three communities to use for short and long-term recovery priorities. The intent is to assist the impacted business communities.
    • $2 million Innovation Fund is set up to help establish long-term regional business resiliency.

ACUTE FUND

Following more than 1,900 phone calls and site visits to fully understand the impact the explosions had on businesses, the coalition had a better idea of what was needed. Responding to the key issues identified by businesses, new programming and grant resources were established to support financial tracking and digital marketing. That was just part of the comprehensive response.

  • Conducted ongoing outreach to impacted businesses through nearly 4,000 site visits, phone calls and other efforts
  • Helped small businesses secure $500,000 in 0% emergency loans through MCCI. This emergency loan fund was convened with leadership from Mass Growth Capital Corporation and included capital from 20 distinct regional banks and credit unions.
  • Provided technical assistance through more than 30 hiring, accounting and marketing workshops to more than 200 businesses.
  • EforAll/EparaTodos made 400 secondary referrals connecting affected businesses with additional technical assistance.
  • Supported businesses filing insurance claims with Columbia Gas and helped more than 50 businesses secure an additional combined $100,000 in claims from Columbia Gas.
  • Hired a leading Boston marketing agency (CTP) to develop and manage a six-month campaign to support small, locally-owned businesses. Rock the Register is employing advertising, marketing, storytelling and shopper incentives to encourage residents and consumers from neighboring communities to shop local.
  • Launching a consumer incentive program aimed at putting $240K into the hands of a large number of impacted businesses.
    • Program is in partnership with Nift
    • Distributing 8,000 $30 gift cards to residences in impacted areas
    • Once consumer registers their card they will be given option of local businesses to use it
    • Food, beverage, health, beauty, retail shopping are key categories

Next Steps: Fostering resiliency and growth

The acute work to ensure that businesses return to their pre-crisis state will continue through the end of the year. But the Coalition is also now focused on business resiliency and growth for all Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover businesses. By working to enhance the resiliency capacity of the entire business community and cultivating regional job and economic opportunities, businesses will be given the chance to prosper and will be better equipped to withstand future stresses and shocks.

  • Engaged a widely respected consultancy (Mt. Auburn Associates) to research what strategies other regions have used to recover from natural disasters, and then help plan a regional economic development plan
  • Establish and readying to launch a permanent Regional micro loan fund for non bankable businesses
  • Kick off eight accounting workshops in September
  • Design and implement Business Continuity and Disaster Planning Programming in each municipality for later this fall
  • Kick off an intensive nine-month Entrepreneurship Accelerator initiative for many businesses
  • Continue to support businesses to navigate the claims process
  • Research the possible establishment of a regional economic development entity

Lawrence Rental Assistance Program: Municipal Discretionary Fund

Mayor Rivera is using part of the municipal discretionary fund to pay one month of rent/mortgage for all businesses directly impacted in the city

  • Targeting Impacted Businesses only
  • Program administered by MCCI with oversight and support from the Coalition
  • The first phase runs from Mid-August to Mid-September
  • Goal is to deploy $600-800k to 400 businesses in first phase
  • Nearly 300 applications valuing $400,000 in disbursements have been processed to date
  • $1,700.02- average amount of approved applications

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