Charleston Post and Courier
March 13, 2016
BY FRANK KNAPP
The floods of last year were very hard on the impacted small businesses of South Carolina. Some experienced severe water damage to buildings and inventory. All small businesses in the flooded areas saw decreased consumer demand and thus lower revenue.
But your typical small business was able to ride out the losses on their own. Over 480 did take out a low interest (4 percent for 20 years) Small Business Administration loan to get over the temporary setback.
Then there is farming. In a recent McClatchy News story, Vera Bergengruen writes about the consequences of the flood for farmers. The state’s agriculture industry suffered $587 million in losses last year, with $376 million due to the near-complete destruction of soybean, cotton and peanut crops, according to the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
The floods ruined the cotton crop, and the already harvested peanuts, left out to dry, rotted in their shells. And lots more rain — too much — has fallen since. Many winter crops couldn’t be planted in the persistent muck, leading to an estimated $46 million in further losses.
With little inventory to sell, S.C. farmers faced a year’s worth of farming expenses that many couldn’t pay by Dec. 31. Hundreds of farmers traveled to Columbia in December to ask Gov. Nikki Haley for some of the flood-relief money to cover part of their uninsured crop losses.
According to the McClatchy story, Gov. Haley turned down the farmers, saying that she did not want to give them special treatment over other businesses impacted by the floods.
“Doing that would be going to taxpayers to say, ‘Give them money because they’re farmers.’ So I am not comfortable doing that. What we did do is say we’re going to treat everybody exactly the same, and that’s what we did.”
The federal flood-relief money for South Carolina recently arrived: $157 million. The struggling farmers, already deep in debt, again asked for some of the money to help cover a small part of their losses. And again Gov. Haley said, “No,” sticking to her “fairness to all businesses” excuse.
Let me make this clear. Most of the farms in our state are small businesses. They are an essential part of the economy for many of our struggling rural communities. Growing our local farms should be one of our tools to revitalize the economies of our poorer counties.
If Gov. Haley has no compassion for these struggling farmers, she should at least realize that helping these farmers recover at least some of their flood-related losses to keep them in business is important for economic development in exactly the areas of South Carolina that need it the most.
Gov. Haley should not hide behind fairness to other impacted small businesses as an excuse not to offer some special help to our farmers, especially our small family-owned farms that might be permanently out-of-business due to their flood losses.
The small businesses of our state do not object to grants for our farmers and certainly don’t want to be used as reason for the governor’s shortsighted policy decision to deny them these federal flood-relief funds.
Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.