Gulf Coast Small Businesses Worried About Their Futures

Compensation process is riddled with distrust

In a letter to claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg, Louisiana Department of Family Services Secretary Kristy Nichols wrote that the move, which she believes will be “devastating” to claimants “is irresponsible and in complete contrast to BP’s repeated promise that they will ‘make things right.’”

“I’m not buying into whatever we hear. There’s been so much deception and anger, it’s pathetic,” he said. “BP says they’re going to make us whole again; we’re here and waiting to see. But we’re not the type of people to rely on other people to feed us.”

Seedco, a nonprofit community development organization that has deployed just under $30 million in loans and grant funding in the area over five years, is operating a fisheries assistance program in Plaquemines Parish that provides business and technical assistance to fishermen and directly affected businesses such as restaurants. Approximately 54% of its lending in the area has gone to minority owned fisheries.

Lesia Bates Moss, president of Seedco Financial, said that in addition to helping people complete compensation claims forms and get access to other resources, her firm has instituted a program that allows fisherman to defer for up to six months the principal and interest on their loans. “We’re also helping them identify other sources of income so they can continue to feed their families and pay their obligations,” Moss said.

Karl Turner, founder of A La Carte Specialty Foods, is luckier than most. Last year, his firm, which specializes in the manufacture and marketing of heat and serve seafood products, earned $2 million in sales last year. Still, the spill has had a harmful impact on his brand. There has been a precipitous drop in sales of a product called Sauté Your Way, which he cobranded with the famous chef Paul Prudhomme, who developed gourmet sauces to accompany the gulf shrimp. It is sold in 300 grocery stores across Louisiana and in 200 Kroger’s in Indiana.

Research had shown that consumers viewed Gulf shrimp as a highly valuable and sought-after product, Turner said. “Now those words don’t necessarily mean that anymore and there’s consumer resistance to that brand,” he added. There has been a 75% drop in sales of the product, which represents about 30% of total sales of his lines.

Turner said that he hopes to continue selling the product but will have to wait to see if it will be possible. BP has awarded a $5 million grant to the state and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, which he served as executive director for 12 years, to conduct marketing and consumer confidence building.

“We’ll have to see how that unfolds in the market,” said Turner, who plans to file suit against BP because his brand has been damaged.

In tomorrow’s installment, Experts Still Determining Extent of Spill’s Damage to Ecosystem and Human Health

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