Undefeated Seasons

It's been a year since September 11 made Americans ask how we would ever get back to business as usual. How have business owners fared? Resisting the dual forces of terror and recession proved to be a challenge entrepreneurs were able to step up to.

If Shirley Dreifus had not overslept on the morning of September 11, 2001, she and most of her staff would most likely have died when a Boeing 767 plowed into 1 World Trade Center. Her company, Strategic Communications Group Inc., had offices several floors below the main point of impact. "I understand that my office was gone immediately," says Dreifus, who was on the phone with her staff when the first plane hit. "I think a lot of people wouldn't have made it because we would have been meeting in my office--if I had been on time."

As it turned out, all 22 employees made it out safely after Dreifus directed rescue workers by phone to the adjoining office where they were trapped by a locked stairwell. "It really was a miracle," says the 54-year-old Manhattan resident, who owns Strategic Communications with Farhan Ali, 40.

Nearly as miraculous is the fact that their company, which provides marketing and communications services to financial services firms, is alive and well, despite losing almost everything in the attacks. Like many entrepreneurs, Dreifus and Ali went into high gear that fateful day and in the hazy weeks that followed, focusing on their business, not their emotions. "We didn't give ourselves a lot of time to think because we knew what we had to accomplish," says Dreifus. "You have to keep going. You have a job; you have to do it."

"A lot of small-business people didn't give up because they knew there were a lot of people out there trying to help them."

Their story of survival is not unique. Across the country, small companies are finding ways to survive and thrive despite the combination of terrorism and recession. While initially devastating to many businesses, the terrorist attacks did no permanent damage to the majority, say experts.

"I've seen a number of businesses that suffered physical damage or were at Ground Zero, and they were able to relocate 10 or 12 blocks away, re-establish their business and reconnect with their customer base," says Jim King, director of the New York State Small Business Development Center, which dispatched business advisors to New York City in an effort to assist small firms with their recovery efforts. That meant helping companies apply for disaster loans, file insurance claims and even simply retrieve their e-mail using SBDC computers. "A lot of small-business people didn't give up," says King, "because they knew there were a lot of people out there trying to help them."

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Undefeated Seasons.

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