Business Retention and
Expansion Program as
a Disaster Recovery Tool
By NANCY BOWEN-ELLZEY, CEcD
Of the many tools and resources available to communities in responding to natural disasters, the extension business retention and expansion (BR&E) program is one of the least referenced and, possibly, most overlooked. Helping local communities learn how to systematically gather
information critical to understanding local
development needs is a key BR&E program
objective, and this information can also be
useful in a community response to business
needs in the aftermath of a disaster.
Disaster in the form of an F4-F5 tor-
nado struck the rural northwestern Ohio
community of Van
The most immediate concerns entailed temporary relocation,
communication with employees, stabilization of product move-
ment, and customer retention. The majority of the companies
were manufacturing firms whose products were delayed in deliv-
ery due to the disaster. Several of the companies relied on only
one or a few major customers and worried they would lose them
without quick action. The survival of these businesses depended
on immediate and effective communications with and access to
employees, customers, and government resources.
Ohio State University Extension personnel in all program
areas have opportunities to incorporate emergency preparedness
and disaster resilience topics into their outreach programs. Little
did the community know the detailed business information they
had been collecting the past four years would be so valuable to
informing their responses. Led by the extension, the community
BR&E program cataloged basic contact information for key exec-
utive staff as well as complete company profiles that included
information on products, markets, customers, workforce, and dis-
tribution networks. The program also fostered a trust among the
owners and managers of existing businesses and the community
leadership and economic development organizations (EDO) that
was critical to a coordinated and practical response.
Task 1: Access data sets for immediate contact. Company information including key executive names, phone (mobile)
numbers, and e-mail addresses in addition
to company profiles were accessed to make
emergency contact to affected businesses.
Task 2: Hold an emergency meeting.
Extension or the lead EDO held an emergency
meeting with affected businesses and local,
state and federal government agencies to
The meeting was
held within 48 hours
of the disaster to
determine immediate business needs
such as establishing worker information station(s),
expediting permit-ting, among other
The Small Business
was involved from
the federal level to
assist with immediate financing needs.
Task 3: Generate an economic impact assessment report.
An immediate assessment was conducted and shared with FEMA,
who used the information to determine whether the area could be
declared a disaster area eligible for federal funding. The analysis,
using benchmark data collected through BR&E, measured:
n job loss
n loss of wages
n business closures and interruption
n damage to infrastructure
n damage to property (commercial, industrial, residential)
A BR&E program is an economic
development plan designed to assist
local governments and economic
development organizations assess
the needs and barriers of existing
businesses in a community.
Disaster hit Van Wert, Ohio on Sunday Nov. 10, 2002. A tornado demolished four manufacturing
facilities, seriously damaged four others, and left 485 people without jobs.