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The spring of 2019 was one of the worst years on record for flooding in Grafton, IL. With floodwaters at 30+ feet above sea level for weeks on end, Grafton’s local economy, which is fueled by tourism, was devastated by the closure of a majority of its businesses and roadways. Business investor, Marcus Lemonis, came to Grafton to assess the economic conditions and help the town get back on its feet.

When Marcus arrived in Grafton, the entire main street of the town was underwater. Although it had been 7 weeks, the town was still primarily under 14 feet of water. He met with the town’s mayor, Rick Eberlin, who showed Marcus around the town by boat and explained to him that businesses were at an 80% loss in revenue over the previous year. Because the town relies so heavily on tourism, Rick recognized that if they can’t get the floodwaters down and the businesses back open, some may have to permanently close because their financial deficit is too large to overcome.

Unfortunately, Grafton is no stranger to flooding leaving many businesses and residents struggling to find insurance companies willing to provide them with flood insurance. Another major issue that plagues Grafton is that FEMA has been buying real estate that is prone to flooding. After FEMA purchases properties they can not be purchased back from the federal government. Those properties can then never be used for businesses that can help drive revenue for the town.

After assessing the financial and property damage of many local businesses, it is clear to Marcus that every day the businesses of Grafton are closed, they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because the town’s major source of revenue is through sales tax, the town itself is also finding itself in financial trouble. Marcus asked the mayor to let him review the books of the town to help them find ways to recoup their deficit. The town was already operating at a deficit for the general fund of $30,000 before the flood. They believe that after the flood damages, they will need to add another $100,000 to the deficit. The town only has an $800,000 cash reserve to help them rebound from this flood.

In order to get their town back on track, Marcus helps the town to focus on improvements that they can make that will help to promote tourism and strengthen their town’s brand. They begin to brainstorm what they want to be known for and tentatively decide on “The Key West of the Mid West.” They later changed their motto to “Grafton, A Real American Rivertown.”

To engage the town in the cleanup and revitalization efforts, Marcus holds a town hall meeting in the town’s school to explain his plan for helping Grafton recuperate from this flood. He explains that he is going to buy property in the town and hopes that others will follow suit. This will prevent FEMA from purchasing the property and locking out potential growth for Grafton. Marcus also proposes that they install a very large American flag that can be seen from the Mississippi River. The flag will be a symbol of the town’s resilience and will be dedicated to the veterans and first responders of the town.

Because Marcus has no interest in maintaining a business in the property that he purchased in Grafton, he extends the opportunity to the mayor’s wife, Kim. He would like her to start a business in the building he purchases that would help stimulate the local economy. Kim decides to open a souvenir shop that celebrates Grafton and their craftsmen by selling wares created by the people of Grafton. These local goods will be very popular with tourists and will help to support many small businesses in their town. Kim’s shop, River Bank Gifts, opened in October 2019 and has been well received by the community and tourists alike.

As the river waters reside and the tourists begin to come back to Grafton, the local economy is once again stimulated. Marcus returned to Grafton and was pleased to learn that others were purchasing real estate and so far, FEMA had not purchased any property as a result of the recent flooding. He was also excited to see that the Mayor was making some good moves to help put money back into the pockets of the city, such as sending invoices to boat slip holders in the marina that have not adequately paid the town. This should help add around $250,000 to the city’s bottom line. The town also installed and dedicated the large American flag which can now proudly be seen on the riverbank of Grafton, IL as a reminder to all that this is a town of incredible strength, with the power to overcome major adversity.

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