NORMAN — When disaster strikes, business owners are forced to take stock of the damage and figure out what they need so they can open their doors again.
The task of assessing storm damage and deciding how to proceed can be daunting, which is why three area business organizations are lending a hand.
Chambers of Commerce in Moore, Norman and Oklahoma City are joining forces to help the businesses that were damaged when a violent tornado swept through Moore and south Oklahoma City on May 20. The tornado killed 24 people, including 10 children, and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.
Moore, Norman and Oklahoma City are rivals when it comes to attracting sales tax dollars or recruiting new businesses, but they also are willing to help each other, said John Woods, president and CEO of the Norman Chamber.
“They are sometimes our competitors, but ultimately they’re our neighbors,” he said.
Woods said his organization is compiling a list of businesses that are offering discounts for tornado victims on everything from eye care to carpet cleaning. The organization also is working with the federal Small Business Administration to identify business owners who were affected by the tornado, then help them apply for low-interest loans to help them get back on their feet.
Woods said the Norman Chamber also sent a crew to Little Axe — a rural community about 20 miles east of Norman — over the weekend to help residents clean up debris from the storm.
Back to business: Moore and Oklahoma City are assisting tornado-damaged businesses by teaming up with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the South Oklahoma City Chamber and the Moore Chamber for the Greater Oklahoma City Back to Business Initiative. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce also is a partner in the program.
The program is designed to help businesses that were affected by the tornado match their needs with available resources so they can recover as quickly as possible, said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater OKC Chamber.
“We’re not duplicating what someone else is doing,” he said. “We’re doing what nobody else is doing.”
Williams said approximately 300 businesses were in the tornado’s direct path, but it’s unclear whether those businesses were actually located in that area or just had a mailing address there. He added that his organization is working with the Moore Chamber to identify businesses that were directly affected by the tornado.
Business owners can call 297-8943 or visit www.greateroklahomacity.com/backtobusiness to report storm damage, according to a news release from the Greater OKC Chamber. Program officials will help owners identify options for recovery assistance, including donations from area businesses and short- and long-term loan programs.
Area companies interested in sharing resources can visit the website and fill out a form for providing supplies, office space or other assistance.
“Even though their needs are still being evaluated, we know that some businesses have lost everything,” Deidre Ebrey, economic development director for Moore, said in the news release. “Whether you have extra office space or even just extra office supplies, every little bit counts to those faced with the challenge of keeping their business operational after a disaster.”