On election day, hundreds of thousands of people in the Northeast were still without power following Hurricane Sandy, with the hardest hit areas in New Jersey and New York marking a ninth consecutive day without electricity. In addition to power outages, gas shortages stalled recovery efforts, and window and door manufacturers in the region said it was still too early to gauge the storm’s full impact on the industry.
United Window & Door Manufacturing in Springfield, N.J., was shut down the entire week of the storm, but is now operational, says Howard Rose, president. The manufacturer’s facility escaped Sandy with just minor damage, and all employees are safe. “However, about half still don’t have power,” he says. “We are doing what we can to help our people and trying to give assistance any way we can.”
In terms of fuel, “it is still hard to come by. We are facing long lines, but the governor has done a good thing by going to alternate days,” Rose says, referring to Governor Christie’s imposition of alternate-day fuel rationing in 12 counties based on license-plate numbers.
“Every day is a little bit better,” Rose says. “We are back to business as usual, and progressing forward. We are trying to recoup any business that we may have lost due to the storm, and are hoping that the majority of customers have held their orders.”
Reilly Windows & Doors has also resumed operations at its Calverton, N.Y., location on Long Island, “but it’s pretty bad out here,” says Ben Edwards, production manager. “The beaches are gone; there are houses in the ocean and flooding in many areas.”
The Reilly facility did not flood, but it did lose part of the roof. “We are working to get that repaired right now,” Edwards says. While many of the company’s employees lost power, no one suffered injuries.
Edwards said it is too early to tell how the storm has affected orders and business activity. “Our particular company works in the very high end, so we don’t take orders over the phone. There is a lot of negotiation involved,” he explains.
At Crystal Window & Door Systems' headquarters in the New York City borough of Queens, operations shut down the afternoon of Monday, October 29, and did not reopen until that Wednesday.
"The effect of the hurricane has been very significant throughout the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut tri-state region. In some areas along the coast, the storm surge proved to be utterly devastating," says Steve Chen, executive vice president. "Crystal Windows' main factory in Queens was affected. The basement parking garage flooded due to overflowing storm sewers, but other than that, the building suffered no problems. Unlike many in the region, we did not lose electric power."
"Our immediate problems following the hurricane involved employees getting to work since much of the New York City transit system was shut down for several days, and many of our dealer/distributor customers were shut down due to lack of power, or phone and Internet problems," Chen says. "Gradually, electric power, phone and Internet have been restored, but the shortage of gasoline availability has become critical for employees, our trade customers and our company vehicles."
Less than 10 days after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast, it is not clear what the long-term effects will be on the window and door industry, and economy as a whole. As of November 5, catastrophe risk modeling firm Eqecat put the estimated economic damage at $30 billion to $50 billion, according to CNN.
Speaking during a seminar hosted by the National Association of Business Economics, November 6, Charlie Steindel, chief economist for the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, said the “rebuilding depends on the extent of the damage, and we frankly don’t have an estimate yet.”
“There has obviously been extensive damage in communities on the Jersey Shore. … There is going to be major rebuilding throughout that region,” Steindel said.
Ken McGill, managing director for Rockport Analytics, agreed. “New Jersey is a little different than other parts of the country in that their [tourism market] is dominated by rental homes. We’re not talking about rebuilding a 200-room hotel; we’re talking about rebuilding hundreds of homes, and that process will be slower than repairing a couple of hotels would be. … The issue is really how quickly the reconstruction can take place.”
Despite the inevitable rebuilding activity, Ken Simonson, NABE president and chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said he doesn’t anticipate Sandy will have a positive impact on the construction industry as a whole.
“I hate to pour more rain on this parade, but I don’t see [Sandy] as being much of a net positive,” he told webinar attendees. “I think there will be some pickup in construction in the immediate area, but I think that a lot of that activity will take a long time to get going. Most of the money that will be coming from the federal government will take some time to filter through before the construction can happen.”
“While it is relatively easy to count the number of homes that have been destroyed, that doesn’t necessarily translate into one-for-one replacement,” Simonson said. “I think that the net impact on the construction industry, even within the region, will be small, and measured over a longer period of time, it will be negative.”
For those in the trenches, immediate concerns outweigh thoughts of rebuilding.
“People aren’t even thinking about rebuilding right now,” Rose says. “They don’t have power; some don’t have a roof over their heads.”
“As far as looking ahead, we haven’t had time to focus on the consequences of the storm,” agrees Ty Schwartz, vice president, sales and marketing for Thermal Industries. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, the company escaped Hurricane Sandy’s wrath but has many dealers in the affected areas.
“It certainly would make sense for repair and rebuilding to start, but we think it will take quite some time, especially with the hardest hit areas,” Schwartz says. “Right now, we are focused on doing whatever we can to help our friends, family and customers get their lives back.”
To help those immediately impacted by the storm, Thermal Industries is providing several "Disaster Relief Programs" to homeowners in officially designated disaster areas and states related to Hurricane Sandy.
"We especially feel connected to the storm survivors because many of our own employees, family members, friends and customers are living in the severely affected areas. Many of our friends and family are not only starting to survey the damage, but they are living through it,” Schwartz says.
Thermal’s disaster relief efforts include several discounted replacement window programs and payment options to help homeowners get back on their feet and restore their homes.
“With the markets that we cover, fortunately, we haven’t had to think of any ‘disaster relief programs’ [in the past],” Schwartz says. “But because this storm hit such a wide swath of our distribution area, it obviously has had a huge effect on many of our employees and customers. We are running a special program on window purchases for our customers and we have had very good initial responses and reaction to it. We would ask homeowners to work through our dealers with this program. But we want to try and figure out a way to do even more.”
If your company has been affected by Hurricane Sandy and you would like to update readers on your situation, please email Jenni Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org.