- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

When John Nimmo was called up by the reserves and sent to Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, the multimedia production company he co-owned ended up in a financial bind.
Mr. Nimmo's partner, Jerry Sexton, said he worked 12- and 16-hour days during Mr. Nimmo's eight-month absence from Denver-based Digital Metropolis.
But "it hurt; we lost money," he said.
In suburban Rochester, N.Y., Robert Parsons' one-doctor veterinary practice was hobbled when he was called up in the fall.
His wife, Marla, has hired part-time veterinarians, but "we've been dramatically affected," she said.
Thousands of small businesses around the country have had to cope in recent months as employees or in the case of these two companies, the owners have been called to duty by the reserves.
In some cases, the businesses have been hurt financially. In others, the problem is a loss of expertise.
It's most difficult when the reservist is a sole proprietor.
Mrs. Parsons quit her job in November to manage her husband's practice. She's looking for a full-time vet and making do with part-timers two days a week.
To help tide the animal clinic over, Mrs. Parsons received an economic-injury disaster loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). It has been a big help, but Mrs. Parsons is well aware that when her husband returns, there'll be another bill that must be paid.
Digital Metropolis also got a loan to help after Mr. Nimmo was called up in 2001. Mr. Sexton said the money helped, but it was still a stressful time.
"You become the sole proprietor, and you make all the decisions," he said. "I can remember many nights I'd be home at 10 or 11 at night, putting together proposals" for clients.
The partners are aware that they might be facing the same situation in the near future.
"He's on alert. He may have to go back," Mr. Sexton said of Mr. Nimmo.
Both Mr. Sexton and Mrs. Parsons said that if necessary, they would turn again to the SBA for more money.
The SBA's economic-injury disaster loans typically serve as resources for businesses directly or indirectly hurt by disasters such as hurricanes, floods and ice storms.
They also were available to businesses affected by the September 11 attacks.
But the loans also are granted to companies whose businesses are hurt when essential employees are called up by the reserves. Like other economic-injury disaster loans, these loans are intended to help companies cover their obligations until after the employees are released from active duty. They are, however, not meant to replace lost profits.
The amount a company can borrow will be limited to the actual economic injury that the SBA determines the business has suffered. The maximum interest rate on the loans is 4 percent, and the SBA will set the term of the loan up to a maximum of 30 years after considering a company's financial circumstances.
Like the SBA's other economic injury disaster loans, companies are required to put up collateral if the loan amount is more than $5,000.
For many companies, the absence of an owner or other key employee means a loss of know-how. Both Parsons and Digital Metropolis had to deal with that problem.
Mr. Sexton noted that his partner couldn't be replaced overnight "I had to try and hire someone in. And by the time they're up to speed and get going, it's still an impact on everything."


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