Danielle's Blog: Nashville needs our help recovering from flooding - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Danielle's Blog: Nashville needs our help recovering from flooding

Carrie Brumfield & Debby Dale Mason Carrie Brumfield & Debby Dale Mason
Carl Stewart Carl Stewart

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

NASHVILLE, TN (WLOX) - I have been making the drive to Nashville, Tennessee every few months for nearly two years. Each time, I'm amazed by the beauty of the rugged Tennessee landscape. On the winter trips, I see the fallen snow on the countryside and ice crystals hanging from the cliffs. In the autumn, there are the most beautiful yellow and orange leaves.

I was already planning a trip to Nashville when news broke of record flooding. I called friends who live up there to make sure they were okay and asked if they needed anything. Fortunately, none of them had been impacted, but I knew there were others who weren't so lucky.

One friend told me, "Now we have to start mucking out." A Katrina flashback. We know too well that when the waters recede, and the cameras go away, that's not the story.

I considered canceling my trip because I was unsure what kind of Nashville I'd find. Then I decided I wanted to see for myself and tell others about my experience.

I was surprised that I had trouble finding damage. I don't claim to know every inch of Nashville, however, I can navigate several areas pretty well because I learn my way around by getting "lost" and exploring. (Don't tell my mother.)

Downtown Nashville is a giant slope that ends with a steep drop off to the Cumberland River. I drove around until I came across several businesses that front the river. Outside were huge dumpsters full of sheet rock and whatever else the flood has ruined. I could hear the power tools of busy workers.

I took a few pictures then approached a man I learned was Lance Reid, a local business owner. Lance said he and many others like him are paying for their own repairs. He said since the elevation is very high here, "a lot of people didn't have flood insurance. A lot of people lost a lot of inventory."

Lance directed me to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to get a better idea of the flood's impact. There I met with Debby Dale Mason, Chief Community Action Officer and Carrie Brumfield, Community Action Manager. They were gracious enough to take the time to talk to me, despite my showing up unannounced.

Mason said there was a lot of aid flowing into the Nashville area. While that's great, she said, most of the help from non-profit agencies is directed towards homeowners and not businesses. She said people assume businesses have a lot of resources and that's not always true.

The only resource to those without flood insurance or sufficient savings, is many cases is the Small Business Administration. Mason said SBA's cap on its quick loan of about $1 million. The Chamber estimates the flood impacted 2,600 businesses. Mason said for many businesses, $1 million is not enough, considering all their losses. Some were forced to layoff employees.

To keep businesses from falling through the cracks, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean directed the Chamber to coordinate the Business Response Team. This is a new and unprecedented role for the Chamber. Soon the staff had plans underway for a series of briefings on government agencies, insurance companies and other topics.

The Chamber is also partnering with volunteer groups to do needs assessment studies to figure out what the businesses need to survive. But Mason said there are no illusions that every business can be saved. She said there were businesses that were already struggling because of the economy. So the flooding could be the final straw.

"Obviously, businesses are such an integral part of the economy and jobs. The goal is to have those businesses recover as quickly as they can," said Mason. "Your goal is to save as many businesses and jobs as you can. There is a challenge where there is a need for resources to help in that process."

The Chamber has established a fund raising effort through its website, but wants to do more than give out grants and loans. Details are still being worked out for business mentorships and furniture giveaways. Mason said she knows the challenge is great.

"We had 25 zip codes affected. We're not concentrated. We're all over,"she said.

After my visit at the Chamber, I started walking again. You can't go two steps in Nashville without coming across a musician and sure enough I met Carl Stewart, a Blues guitarist and singer. We talked music a little, then I tell him I'm a reporter from Biloxi. Turns out he played in Biloxi "back in the day" before casinos.

I asked him how the flood had impacted the people we all think of when we think Nashville: the musicians. He said some entertainment venues were hit hard financially when they had to close temporarily, especially from having to return deposits. He said he's heard of one business that had to refund $100,000. All that led to a lot of cutbacks at venues.

Carl said he and other artists have had to agree to play for less money. But he said playing for less money is better than not playing at all.

"I've been playing for 32 years, toured with B.B. King. I'm not having a problem finding work," Carl said. "Everybody is not that fortunate. The town itself is doing good considering, but a lot of small businesses are struggling."

I listened to Carl play for awhile and it's no surprised he toured with B.B. He's great.

I'm always a little sad to leave Nashville. This trip I learned the people here are as resilient as an ole country tune stuck in your head. But Nashville still has a long way to go to recover and she needs our help. 

For more information on how to help Nashville's business community, visit http://www.nashvillechamber.com/FloodRecoveryAssistance.aspx or call (615) 743-3007.

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