SBA Chief Tours South Mississippi Businesses

Katrina's winds and rainwater churned inside Apex Laundry on 30th Avenue in Gulfport. All the linens were soaked and soiled, and the equipment rusted and ruined.

"It was tough," said Jeffrey Buck, who co-owns Apex Laundry. "I mean, you go into business and it kind of is going to be your retirement. And here you are, 48-years-old, and all of a sudden it's gone."

Buck and his partners were not ready to fold the 14 year old business. They applied for a disaster loan from the Small Business Administration, and received the $866,000 within six months. Buck got a chance to share his recovery story with the head of the SBA, Steve Preston.

"Here we are, two years later, running 85 percent higher than we were before the storm, thanks to the loan from SBA," Buck said.

"It's good to see you back on your feet," Steve Preston said.

Preston heard similar stories of progress, as well as complaints, during a roundtable discussion with business owners in Biloxi.

"We monitor the situation down here pretty carefully, and work with our people," Preston said. "We wanted to come down here near the second anniversary of Katrina to have one more chance to sit down and talk to business owners about the experience they've had."

One business owner complained about not getting enough government contracts after the storm. Another talked about waiting too long for a loan approval. Preston admits there are challenges ahead. But he also sees progress, after his agency cut much of the red-tape tied to getting an SBA loan.

"We're seeing the quicker turn-around time in our applications," Preston said. "We're seeing our new processes being much more helpful to people that are going through it.   And we're hearing that from feedback from our customers, legislators, and local officials. So that's been very gratifying."

While the SBA tries to iron out some of the problems, Jeffrey Buck is thankful his loan request went through quickly.

"It's a lifesaver," Buck said. "No doubt about it. It's our tax dollars at work."

The SBA has given out a total of $5,932,463,000 in disaster loans along the Gulf Coast. About $958,687 in loans have been approved, but have not yet been dispersed.