Tohoku loses 10% of small businesses

JIJI

The number of small- and medium-sized businesses in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the three hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, decreased 10.6 percent in 2012 from 2009, the government said Friday.

By prefecture, Iwate suffered a decline of 9.1 percent, Miyagi 11 percent and Fukushima 11.2 percent. The falls are far larger than the nationwide figure of average of 6.4 percent, the government said in its fiscal 2013 white paper on small and mid-size enterprises adopted at a Cabinet meeting the same day.

Specifically, in the three prefectures’ tsunami-devastated coastal areas, 18.3 percent of such businesses disappeared, according to the annual report.

The white paper referred to public support measures for firms in afflicted areas, such as subsidies for business launches and debt guarantee, pointing out small and medium-sized businesses are expected to play greater roles in creating jobs for disaster victims and revitalizing local communities.

Loan acquirer to expand

A government-backed fund tasked with taking over the loans of businesses hurt by the March 2011 disasters will open new offices in Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures.

The fund will eventually have nine offices in Tokyo and five prefectures, including Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori, officials said Thursday, and its workforce will double to 200 by next April.

The fund plans to provide help to 1,050 companies in the disaster zone by the end of March 2015.

In Fukushima, the fund plans to open a branch office in Iwaki by the end of the year and start selecting candidate companies in cooperation with the city and local financial institutions.

The fund is likely to establish the Ibaraki office in Mito.

The fund began operations in March 2012. It buys loans from companies facing the so-called double-loan problem, in which quake- and tsunami-hit companies already burdened with loans found the serious need to borrow additional money to rebuild from the March 2011 disasters.

The fund either places moratoriums on or writes off some of the debts, depending on the situation, to help companies recover.

The fund got off to a slow start but has gradually expanded services. Some 167 companies had received help by the end of last month, and the amount of loan principal acquired totals ¥28.3 billion, compared with the fund’s capacity of ¥500 billion.

Still, the fund believes it is not being utilized enough in Fukushima and Ibaraki, compared with Miyagi and Iwate, where more than 100 companies have applied to use the program so far.