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Just as VARs in the Katrina-ravaged region started to wonder if Microsoft Corp. was ever going to help them, the company has come through with its version of a relief package.

The vendor is giving VARs in the region a series of benefits, including margin relief and customer engagement funds, to assist them in resuming business activities disrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina two months ago.

In a letter to some 300 Certified and Gold Certified partners Friday, the software maker announced it would provide VARs in FEMA-designated Hurricane Katrina disaster areas $750,000 in assistance and business incentives:

  • Membership fees waived for Microsoft Partner Program and the International Association of Microsoft certified Partners
  • replacement of lost or damaged Action Packs and Certified Partner Boxes
  • Up to $1,000 for marketing/demand generation events
  • Additional margin allowance on all orders and renewals
  • Up to $4,000 per customer engagement (up to five) on a first-come, first-serve basis (Microsoft has devoted a total of $500,000 for the effort.)

    Microsoft ‘Live’ Doesn’t Scare Partners. Click here to read more.

    The offerings kick in Nov. 4 and expire Feb. 28.

    More than 1,000 registered partners are also eligible for all but the customer engagement funds.

    Microsoft has also been offering customers 90-days of interest-free financing and extensions and temporary software for volume licensing customers.

    The incentives are designed to provide opportunities to Microsoft VARs through Microsoft customers, putting an investment in both, said Todd Cione, area general manger for Microsoft’s Small and Mid-Market Solutions and Partners South Central Area (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas).

    “This will put people back to work,” said Jim Perrier, of Universal Data Inc., a collaboration specialist, in New Orleans.

    “Part of the problem has been that people just don’t have the money to spend. There aren’t any customers for businesses, and we haven’t had mail in two months. When the mail stops, so do your receipts. Putting spending power in a customer’s hands will get us back to work.”

    Many Microsoft VARs were frustrated initially by Microsoft’s response to the tragedy, which they said was slow, but Cione said Microsoft said it was busy performing humanitarian aid for their partners and clients before they got to the technical issues.

    “If you asked me a week ago, or two weeks or a month, I would have given you a different answer,” said Louis J. Hoerner Jr., of AIM Technologies Inc., a Great Plains reseller.

    “It wasn’t one big issue, it was this or that from specific clients who needed [replacement] software or this or that, and it would be difficult getting it. But at the same time, they sent us a ton of golf shirts because our staff didn’t have clothes to wear, so you know they’re trying. It’s just a big job.”

    One Microsoft partner who wished to remain anonymous said he is still waiting for replacement software for some clients.

    “This is a substantial task,” Cione said. “Initially, we wanted to make sure the humanitarian needs were taken care of; now we can move on to the business needs, and this is a substantial effort in that direction.”

    Microsoft estimated it had 7,000 customer who suffered some detriment from the August hurricane.

    Many of them left the city and set up new infrastructure, either temporary or permanent, in new locations, Microsoft and partners said.

    Building new business opportunities will be key to the success of partners and vendors in New Orleans, said Charles Coe, president of Coe Solutions Inc.

    “There will be opportunity coming,” Coe said. “These incentives could be enough to entice something new to spring up, get some customers back and build new market share for us and for Microsoft.”