What should make members of Congress from both parties and small-business owners all agree about increasingly extreme weather? Resilience.
We believe our nation must become much more resilient to extreme weather events. Wildfires and drought in California threaten businesses and livelihoods — even more than they now threaten lives. The same is true with coastal storms, such as Hurricane Sandy which caused damage to many businesses in New Jersey and New York — including IceStone — from which they are still trying to recover more than one and a half years later.
Damage from extreme weather is particularly devastating to small businesses.
While larger businesses have more resources to survive a storm — more properties, more employees, stronger infrastructure and more financial capital — many businesses endure on a smaller scale. The combined effects of property damage from flooding or storm surge, damaged merchandise, lost revenue during a flooding event, increased insurance premiums, power failures, lost work hours and an insidious distraction from their core business often devastate small businesses. An estimated 25 percent of small- to mid-sized businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.
Much of this damage could be prevented with better planning and infrastructure to make our communities, businesses and institutions more resilient.
For this reason, and on behalf of small-business owners and members of the American Sustainable Business Council, we support the bipartisan Strengthening the Resiliency of Our Nation on the Ground (STRONG) Act to develop and improve local extreme weather resiliency.
This bill calls for an information clearinghouse for state and local use and establishes a federal interagency working group to ensure that state, local and private-sector resiliency efforts are efficient and effective. A key element will be an online portal that will direct business owners to key data and tools to improve preparedness and recovery time. Not only will this bill help protect the local businesses that make up the backbone of the nation’s economy, it also will begin to reduce the exorbitant costs to the United States from extreme weather.
In the past two years, the federal government has spent at least $136 billion on disaster relief, and there have been more than 130 weather-related disasters, costing at least $1 billion each, in the U.S. in the last 30 years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2011 and 2012 were the two most extreme years on record for destructive weather events, causing more than $170 billion in damages, much of that to businesses. If we continue to see frequent extreme weather, these costs are certain to rise in coming years.
We need policymakers to recognize the impact of extreme weather events on our nation’s well-being. Weather disasters have implications across all U.S. economic sectors. For small businesses in particular, the results include the unavailability of insurance and loss of both the customer base and employees, adversely affecting a community’s economic well-being. We can help prevent these losses before they occur, as opposed to spending more in the aftermath of a storm. In fact, for every $1 spent on disaster preparedness and resilience-building, we can avoid at least $4 in future losses.
Responsible for employing nearly half of the entire U.S. work force, small businesses are critical to its economy, while at the same time uniquely vulnerable to damage from extreme weather events. The STRONG Act will enable the assessment of current and planned resiliency efforts and develop a plan to support and improve them. As a result, business owners who care deeply about the protection of their local communities will have hope of surviving and prospering in an increasingly uncertain future.
It is time to look beyond the divisive politics of the day and instead focus on places of bipartisan, common-sense purpose. Preparing our communities, planning ahead and supporting resiliency efforts will help small business stay alive and save money in the long run. And that’s good for America.
Rep. Scott Peters is a Democrat representing California’s 52nd District. Dal LaMagna is CEO and CFO of IceStone USA, a manufacturer of countertops, and founder of Tweezerman, a personal care-products company.