PITTSTON – A plastic spray bottle hangs from the rafters 15 feet above the floor of GT Fabrication in Pittston, in the same place it was deposited by the crest of the Susquehanna River during the flood of September 2011.
It's one of the few reminders of the flood remaining at the metal fabrication and powder-coating business, which reopened 10 weeks after the flood and resumed 100 percent production capacity five months after the waters receded, thanks in part to the $100,000 loan the business received through the Luzerne County Flood Recovery Loan Program.
"At the time, our bank accounts were being drained by the cleanup efforts; generators, power washers," GT's Chief Operating Officer Gino Tighe said. "When we got the $100,000, we were able to fix the equipment, get everything clean and get back in business. That loan was very important to get everything back up."
Around 50 elected officials and local business leaders gathered at GT Fabrication on Tuesday to celebrate the success of that program, which invested more than $1.3 million of state gambling tax local share funding in a revolving loan program for flood recovery. Local businesses were eligible to apply for up to $100,000 in loans carrying a 1 percent interest rate, 5-year repayment window and no borrower's fee.
The program disbursed loans to nearly 200 businesses and helped retain 185 jobs, said state Sen. John Yudichak.
"With already the highest unemployment rate in the state, the September flooding was a tragic blow to Luzerne County," Yudichak said. "The businesses, the communities that lay beyond the protection of the levee walls had tough decisions to make: Was it worth it to rebuild? Where would the money come from? Who would help their businesses to get up and running again?"
Disaster recovery loans were available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, but carried interest rates between 4 and 6 percent, and required businesses to submit large volumes of paperwork to qualify, Yudichak said.
Tighe said disbursement speed was crucial to helping his business recover.
"It's a fast, easy, business-friendly loan," he said.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said legislators also need to plan for future disasters, and she is working on developing a small-disaster assistance program.
"Pennsylvania is one of 25 states that does not have a program designed to help communities, businesses and individuals in the event of a flood event that doesn't reach the federal threshold of $16.5 million," Baker said.