Superstorm Sandy whips up sales locally

Hundreds of area construction, utility workers deployed East

Carlo Popolano stands outside his beachfront home, damaged in superstorm Sandy, in Coney Island's Sea Gate community in New York. He said 'everything was okay until about 7:30 and then one big wave came and washed away our whole backyard.'
Carlo Popolano stands outside his beachfront home, damaged in superstorm Sandy, in Coney Island's Sea Gate community in New York. He said 'everything was okay until about 7:30 and then one big wave came and washed away our whole backyard.'

While Hur­ri­cane Sandy brought mis­ery and de­struc­tion to much of the east­ern sea­board, the su­per­storm’s af­ter­math is hav­ing a pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact on some seg­ments of the Toledo busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Busi­nesses and work­ers in­volved in di­sas­ter cleanup, con­struc­tion, and elec­tri­cal work are in high de­mand in the East, and re­build­ing ar­eas of New Jer­sey, New York, and other states could pro­vide badly need work for con­struc­tion work­ers for the bet­ter part of a year.

“The U.S. has tra­di­tion­ally re­in­vested and re­built af­ter dev­as­tat­ing storms like this one. That does cre­ate jobs in a num­ber of ar­eas, in­clud­ing the be­fore, dur­ing, and af­ter por­tions of the storm,” said John Chal­lenger, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas Inc., a Chi­cago-based global out­place­ment firm.

“The be­fore is re­tail, as peo­ple stocked up on emer­gency items they might not nor­mally buy. Dur­ing the storm, there’s jobs for po­lice and fire, first re­spond­ers, health-care work­ers,” Mr. Chal­lenger said. “Then when the storm is over — where we are now — jobs in con­struc­tion for road build­ing and bridge re­build­ing, track re­place­ment for trains, will all be in de­mand. Some of those con­struc­tion work­ers have had a hard time of it over the last few years and this will be a lot of work for them.”

The sheer amount of dam­age — and the ex­pected need of ma­teri­als re­quired for re­build­ing — sent the stocks of sev­eral “hur­ri­cane” stocks soar­ing on Wall Street.

Shares of Toledo-based Owens Corn­ing rose $2.15, a gain of 6.8 per­cent, on Wed­nes­day. It is one of the larg­est mak­ers of roof­ing shin­gles, in­su­la­tion, and other build­ing prod­ucts.

The com­pany ex­pressed con­cern and sym­pa­thy for those af­fected by the di­sas­ter, and said that “from a busi­ness point of view, it’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict the im­pact” so early af­ter a storm.

“Re­cov­ery from these di­sas­ters takes time, so it is not easy to quan­tify the im­me­di­ate de­mand for our prod­ucts, or any build­ing ma­teri­als,” OC spokes­man Matt Schroder said in a state­ment. “As al­ways, Owens Corn­ing’s peo­ple will do all we can to make our prod­ucts avail­able to our cus­tom­ers when­ever and wher­ever they are needed.”

Mean­while, some Toledo firms are al­ready at or headed to the hard­est-hit ar­eas to be­gin the cleanup pro­cess and help re­store ba­sic ser­vices, such as power and wa­ter.

U.S. Util­ity Con­trac­tor Co., a Lake Town­ship-based elec­tri­cal and tele­com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­trac­tor, sent 63 work­ers and a fleet of cranes, ae­rial bucket trucks, and other heavy equip­ment, to New Jer­sey on Satur­day. Owner Stan Chle­bowski es­ti­mates the com­pany’s work­ers could be there a month or more.

“We took ev­ery truck that we could spare and all the safety gear we could dig out, ex­tra chain saws, and rain gear, ’cause they’re work­ing in the rain. They didn’t have power for them­selves in their mo­tel room for over a day,” he said.

Phil LaCourse, pres­i­dent and as­sis­tant busi­ness man­ager of Lo­cal 245, Elec­tri­cal Work­ers, said nearly 375 of his union mem­bers left for the East Coast to help with re­pairs, some leav­ing as early as last Thurs­day. About 100 work­ers em­ployed by Toledo Edi­son left Tues­day.

Another 275 left ear­lier with eight north­west Ohio or Mich­i­gan con­trac­tors hired to help re­store power. The con­trac­tors in­cluded Xtreme Power, S.P.E. Util­ity Con­trac­tors, U.S. Util­ity, Hy­da­ker-Wheat­lake, MJ Elec­tric, JW Didado, and Over­head Lines.

“There is still one con­trac­tor leav­ing [to­day],” Mr. LaCourse said. “…Ev­ery­body who was here do­ing work for FirstEnergy (Corp.) or Toledo Edi­son work was re­leased to go out there to as­sist with the re­pairs.”

An en­gi­neer­ing crew from Wal­bridge gen­eral con­trac­tor Ru­dolph/Libbe Cos. Inc. and its sis­ter com­pany, GEM Inc., which spe­cial­izes in elec­tri­cal and me­chan­i­cal work, left Wed­nes­day for New Jer­sey to help a cli­ent who reached out to the firms via the In­ter­net this week be­cause his phone line was out, his cell phone was dead, and his man­u­fac­tur­ing plant was flooded.

“We have a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with this com­pany and they’re lo­cated very close to the New Jer­sey shore. They have sev­eral feet of wa­ter in their build­ing and lo­cal con­trac­tors are over­whelmed. He told us he didn’t know where else to turn,” said June Rem­ley, a spokes­man for Ru­dolph/Libbe.

FirstEnergy Corp. is among those Ohio com­pa­nies who will be hurt se­verely by the storm. The util­ity, which owns Toledo Edi­son, also owns elec­tric util­i­ties in New Jer­sey, Mary­land, Penn­syl­va­nia, and West Vir­ginia. It still had nearly 2.2 mil­lion cus­tom­ers with­out power and res­tora­tion is go­ing very slowly, spokes­man Jen­ni­fer Young said Wed­nes­day.

The util­ity’s Cleve­land Elec­tric Il­lu­mi­nat­ing and Ohio Edi­son ter­ri­to­ries also got lashed by Sandy and knocked out power to 300,000 cus­tom­ers in north­east Ohio. About 155,000 were still with­out power Wed­nes­day.

“There’s a huge res­tora­tion ef­fort in prog­ress. Folks from Toledo Edi­son have sent crews to Cleve­land and fur­ther east to help with the res­tora­tion ef­fort. And util­i­ties out­side of the state that we have agree­ments with are help­ing out, so we have lots of help,” Ms. Young said.

Con­tact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@the­ or 419-724-6128.