By Andrea Martinez, Class of 2026

My community, Brownsville, Texas, is home to many small businesses and entrepreneurs. The local businesses in the community are frequently owned by Brownsville natives and are family operated. Brownsville, on the border of Mexico and the United States, has a large demographic of Hispanic Americans; with a community deeply rooted in Latin culture, family is central to life and community operations, so customarily, these small businesses are managed by close-knit families and are resilient by nature.

The tip of Texas, a small-scale and emerging area, is not averse to challenges brought by the economic climate or natural disasters. As I began conducting interviews, my preconception of small businesses was confirmed. The first three small businesses I spoke with validated the financial difficulties of ownership and upkeep. Interestingly, these businesses — each varying in years of operation — expressed that despite the obstacles of high rental payments and recruiting and retaining employees, they had never experienced damage from a natural disaster.

Brownsville is a coastal community that encounters seasonal rain and hurricanes. Of the business sample size I interviewed, the organizations had not experienced flood damage; however, based on location, they voiced concerns about drainage and infrastructure issues that contribute to flooding in the area surrounding their businesses. In case of a disaster emergency, all three businesses communicated they had evacuation plans in place, which unfortunately could be invalidated by flooded roads. I also noticed these businesses did not have business continuity plans. When faced with disasters, the local businesses affirmed they would adjust operations according to setbacks and adapt their way of business to effectively target their customers and continue to provide a service.

A disaster in the form of COVID-19 disrupted all the businesses I encountered; however, one shop shared an unexpected positive from the pandemic. This participant is categorized as a healthy fast food smoothie bar that sells products promoting health and wellness. At the peak of the pandemic, the community was in search of natural remedies for COVID ailments, so this business curated products that would combat the symptoms of the illness. Their leadership in the community has instigated a movement of healthy eating. The smoothie bar’s mission to promote better food choices and to boost immunity among Brownsville residents sparked their resiliency during the disaster.

This example showcases the reactive approach businesses take when they are faced with disasters: their response system is instinctive and innovative. These Brownsville businesses recognize the possibility of disasters, and they assume day-to-day operations accordingly. When faced with disasters, they go into reaction mode. Their plans of action consider the uncertainty of having financial leeway, which ultimately help to quicken response times and do what works in that moment.

Read Andrea’s first blog post here.

To learn more about this project and see more student and researcher’s blog posts, click here.