Weeks after 900-mile wide Hurricane Sandy slammed into much of the New England and southern coastal regions, executives at Watsonville-based businesses Granite Construction and West Marine are still assessing the impact on business operations in affected areas.
Executives from both companies said last week the immediate priority has been making sure employees and residents — some who lost everything — were getting the services they needed.
The storm delayed some construction projects under way and temporarily closed storefronts, but there could be a potential uptick in business as clean-up and repair work begins.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Jim Abel, West Marine’s regional vice president for the Northeast Region, which is home to a heavy concentration of stores in coastal areas. “We did a really good job helping boaters get prepared for the storm.” He said, however, that he expected to see a low point in business as people tended to immediate needs in their home.
Prior to the October storm, customers were in West Marine buying gasoline tubs, lanterns and gear to bring boats ashore. They doubled up on dock lines and fenders. Technical and weather gear were in high demand, Abel said. “I don’t think you could find a D cell battery on the day the storm hit in the area.”
Despite preparations, the storm surge lifted boats from stands and stacked them in parks, parking lots and streets throughout the region. Boat Owners Association of the U.S., an Alexandria, Va.-based insurance and services company, estimates more than 65,000 recreational boats were damaged or lost due to the storm.
Industry hit hard
It is an estimated loss of $650 million, the single-largest industry loss since the association began keeping track in 1966, said Scott Croft, association spokesman.
The association is expecting claims from boat owners in Maine to Michigan. About 32,000 boats in New York were damaged or lost and about 25,000 in New Jersey. Only about half of those boat owners have insurance, Croft said. In the 2005 storm season, Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina damage was estimated at over $700 million combined.
“We are all reeling from the huge impact this storm has had on communities and people’s lives,” Croft said. “We’ve never seen anything like it.” Some boaters may give up the recreational pastime, but Croft predicted a spike in demand for repair materials and services. Abel agreed.
With help of generators
“It will be a defining moment, Abel said. “Because the boating tradition is so strong, those customers will be encouraged to get back in the water.”
After the storm, all West Marine stores managed with the help of generators to open in a couple days. Twenty-six stores had some level of interruption adding up to a total of 55 days closed for the company. In previous storms, West Marine had to close fewer stores much longer.
After people take care of their immediate needs, they’ll head to West Marine and boating service providers, Croft says, predicting a springtime spike in boating-related goods and services.
“I’ll guarantee people will be buying more stuff at West Marine next spring,” Croft said.
The company’s early concern has been aimed at supporting about 20 associates living in the affected area who lost homes, cars and boats. A company fund raised more than $10,000 from employees and matching funds for associates in the New Jersey and New York area who lost vehicles, boats and homes.
Closed after storm
A Granite office in Tarrytown, N.Y., was temporarily closed after the storm but was fully operational last week.
A few employees were without power for weeks but only two major projects were in the storm area, the Queens Bored Tunnel Project and the World Trade Center. Last week, Granite workers were still draining and assessing damage to the WTC structure known as the “bathtub,” a 16-acre foundational structure for the city’s third largest transit hub.
The new bomb-proof station links subways, trains and ferries. Clean up crews were removing debris and having to deal with downed power lines, said Jacque Fourchy, company spokeswoman.
Jim Roberts, Granite president and chief executive officer, told investors and analysts last week that other projects in the Northeast sustained minimal damage. “While there will be some opportunities for our business to help with the clean-up efforts, right now our focus is on our employees and our existing projects.”
This article first appeared here.