Federal authorities are throwing another lifeline to stalled businesses in Glenwood Springs


After a year marked by disease and wildfires, Defiance Rafting just east of Glenwood Springs was having a gangbuster whitewater season this summer – so much so that owner Gregory Cowan was planning to replace the 26 rafts that came with it. the company when he bought it three years ago. .

But the mudslides that closed Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon this summer also shut down his business during the height of the rafting season in late July and early August, forcing him to put raft replacements on hold.

“We were finally firing on all cylinders,” Cowan said. “Then the bottom fell. “

Defiance Rafting is one of many businesses in the Glenwood Springs area to rebound from the impacts of COVID closures and the 2020 wildfires which saw their momentum halted by the highway closure this summer – although the number tourist numbers in the region remain high.

The financial toll of the freeway closure on local businesses is not entirely clear yet, but restaurants in Glenwood Springs have likely seen revenues drop 25% and accommodations by 50%, Angie said. Anderson, who runs the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, which represents 400 businesses in Glenwood Springs and surrounding areas.

Federal loan programs helped keep area businesses afloat during the early days of the pandemic and as the Grizzly Creek fire ravaged steep terrain above Glenwood Canyon in 2020.

Now a new round of federal aid is available for local businesses shaken up when a late July deluge hit the burnt area of ​​Grizzly Creek, unleashing a torrent of mud and boulders that left I-70 impassable until ‘in mid-August.

Defiance Rafting Company personnel transport rafts to storage on Sunday, the last day of the company’s river season. The family business Defiance Rafting, now in its fourth season of operation, handles more than 13,000 customers per year. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The Federal Small Business Administration announced in mid-September that low-interest economic disaster loans are available for affected businesses in Garfield County, home to Glenwood Springs, and in Pitkin Counties, Eagle, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Routt. Businesses must be able to demonstrate that they have been affected by the highway closure and cannot find financing elsewhere. The deadline to apply is June 16, 2022.

Cowan said the highway closure cost Defiance Rafting perhaps 2,500 paying customers and more than $ 200,000 in revenue, which would make the company a good candidate for the new round of loans. But he’s waiting for now.

“We have taken full advantage of the COVID loans,” he said. “They have been very helpful, but we are trying to be aware of the debt. These are fair rates and terms, but we have to see how smart we can be with what we have in the future. But it is good to know that these loans exist.

Erin McCuskey, who heads the Northwest Colorado Small Business Development Center – one of two agencies providing free help to business owners looking for loans – said loans have been an important part of how his office has helped small businesses weather recent disasters.

The closure of I-70 has turned business in the area upside down, she said. Supply chains, already stressed by the pandemic, suffered further disruption when the main trucking route to the Front Range and beyond was cut. In an already tight labor market, employees who live scattered on either side of the closure were unable to report for work.

Ironically, many businesses in Northwest Colorado are posting record profits from increased tourism as travelers tired by the pandemic seek out the kind of outdoor adventures Glenwood Springs offers, McCuskey said.

Defiance Rafting employees transport executives to storage on the last day of the company’s seasonal operations, Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Glenwood Springs. “Anytime there’s a business disruption… we’re seasonal so we can’t make it up,” said co-owner Heather Cowan. “When we close in the middle of our peak season, we just have to be nimble and adjust as much as possible. And get ready for the next one. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“What’s unfortunate about the closure of I-70 is that it interrupted this momentum that we have built,” she said.

The extent of an interruption is not yet known. Sales tax receipts for the month of August, when the bulk of the shutdown took place, will not be counted until early October, said Glenwood Springs chief financial officer Yvette Gustad.

But sales tax collections for July show Glenwood Springs has had a fairly good year. Year-to-date sales tax revenue has increased 18.6% from July 2019 and 33.7% from 2020, according to city documents.

McCuskey said she was aware of “several hundred” businesses that may be interested in applying for the new EIDL loan, ranging from hospitality and transportation amenities to community-based nonprofits.

So far, however, she has only been approached by a handful to help her complete the applications.

“We have already had several loans open now, related to these multiple disasters that we have been facing,” said McCuskey. “This new one has been open for a year. We don’t see a huge rush to apply yet. “

Defiance Rafting Company staff take a final raft trip to the Colorado River at the Shoshone Boat Ramp on Sunday, September 26, 2021 in Glenwood Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The big picture, McCuskey said, is that the past two years have exposed the need to adapt to the growing threats of wildfires and mudslides on local infrastructure like the I-70 – des threats aggravated by climate change, climate scientists say.

“These are trends that we are not deviating from,” McCuskey said.

The silver lining, she said, is that the series of calamities appears to be incubating a new sense of collaboration and cooperation between the local business community and agencies like the US Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“We are building a great working relationship between business, government and not-for-profit organizations,” she said. “These situations are no longer hypothetical. We are all determined to find pathways to resilience.

EIDL loans can be an important component towards the goal of community resilience by enabling businesses to change or diversify their business models to better protect themselves from disasters, she said.

Rock and mud live up to the rest area sign August 5 in Glenwood Canyon after the highway closed due to devastating mudslides. (Pool photo by RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

“They are loans, yes, but they are low interest rates,” she said of loans offered at interest rates below 3%. “This is the lowest rate you are going to find. You have to tie it to this disaster, but if companies are looking for capital to pivot their operations in the face of what we’ve learned in recent years, these are some of the best funds you can look for. “

Cowan of Defiance Rafting is grateful for this growing sense of local resilience, saying that increased contact between local outdoor companies and government agencies improves everyone’s ability to manage the impacts of disasters.

“It’s that kind of collaboration that gives us the opportunity to go back to something like normal,” he said.

These developments are welcome, Cowan said, particularly following the pain felt by the community of Glenwood Springs following the highway closure.

Defiance Rafting employee Alex Brotzki (right) watches rafters on the Colorado River on Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Glenwood Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“The shutdown has just drained the energy of Glenwood,” he said. “Even after the highway reopened, there was still a prolonged hangover before people started to feel safe returning to this lane.”

As the end of the rafting season neared the end of September and Cowan prepared to put his fleet of rafts, kayaks, buses and vans on the back burner, he said he was hopeful for the future. He and his wife bought a property at the western end of Glenwood Springs, a few miles downstream from the current Defiance base, to use as an alternate starting point for rafting trips on the Roaring Fork River.

“Hopefully we’ll have a normal season next year,” he said. “That’s just the nature of this business. We dance cheek to cheek with Mother Nature. Sometimes she leads, sometimes we do. You just have to accept it. “

The Colorado Sun does not have a paywall, which means readers don’t have to pay to access articles. We believe vital information needs to be seen by those affected, whether it is a public health crisis, investigative reporting or empowering lawmakers.

This report depends on supporting readers like you. For just $ 5 / month, you can invest in an informed community.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.