Hurricane Katrina dealt a near-fatal blow to thousands of businesses. One year later, determined entrepreneurs across the Gulf Coast are staging a comeback.
Normalcy is not a word David Gross is ready to use. Not quite yet. A full year after 150-mile-per-hour winds tore the roof off his Gulfport, Miss., commercial laundry plant, Gross says he and other business owners in the region are still piecing together their personal and professional lives. "We're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel -- let's hope it's not a freight train," Gross says, shrugging off the thought of another killer storm hitting the Gulf Coast over the next few weeks, typically the most dangerous stretch of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Gross isn't alone. Hurricane Katrina is believed to have damaged or destroyed more than 125,000 small and midsize businesses in the Gulf Coast region. And the struggles they've faced since the storm struck last August have been as numerous as they've been daunting -- from shrimping outfits in Bayou La Batre still pulling their boats from the trees to manufacturers in New Orleans still grappling with a scarcity of electricity and running water.
Among the lucky ones with little or no damage to their actual businesses, many are scrambling to replace lost employees and customers who had no homes to return to. In New Orleans alone, little over half of the city's 455,000 pre-storm residents have moved back, according to the mayor's office.
Finding the capital to recoup and rebuild hasn't been an easy task, either. While more than 22,000 small businesses were granted a total of $2.5 billion in federal low-interest disaster loans by the Small Business Administration -- a process business owners and lawmakers say has been marred by costly delays -- many are still waiting out lengthy insurance assessments. Often, they are denied coverage for damages caused by water and not wind.
Yet, despite these setbacks, small businesses in the Gulf Coast are staging a comeback. For those that call the region home, rebuilding has been approached with the same stubborn determination that made them entrepreneurs in the first place. Many consider themselves lucky still to be standing, and believe it or not, thankful for what the experience has taught them about themselves and their companies.
To honor the one-year anniversary of Katrina, Inc.com checked in with six local businesses representing a cross section of industries: a pie company, a lumber yard, a health clinic, a commercial laundry service, an art gallery, and a furniture manufacturer. These are their stories of survival.