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Manufacturers Brace for Demand in Post-Hurricane Rebuild

By Nancy Pasternak, tED magazine staff writer

While the focus of Hurricane Harvey's aftermath has been rescue and recovery, plans for rebuilding Houston and other areas affected by the storm are already in the works. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has warned the recovery could take years and cost around or above $100 billion. For those who manufacture supplies needed for reconstruction, there is often an increase in business and the challenge to get much-needed materials to those in need.

Forest Lighting is based in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a leader in LED lamps and luminaries. The company's top managers are already meeting to see how the company can work with local distributors to help rebuild the Houston area. Its largest warehouse and distribution center sits in Houston in a non-flooded area. “It's an advantage and a disadvantage, you know,” says Jian Ni, Chief Operation Officer, “The advantage is that we are right there. The disadvantage is that it impacts the shipments going out to other locations.”

Ni says they have enough current stock to meet the demands of the post-hurricane rebuild in the short term. There are also shipments coming in and some in factory production right now. The company also has several employees whose homes were destroyed by flooding that it plans to assist in recovery.

This is the first time Forest Lighting has dealt with a major natural disaster. It began U.S. operations in mid-2014. That hasn't stopped the company from looking at ways to step forward with assistance to hard-hit areas. Adds Ni, “Most of our products are for commercial industrial so we have limited products for residential customers. But we want to see if there's any need from any of our schools or non-profit organizations. We'd be willing to provide with discounted products or even donations to help them rebuild.” Ni says customers outside Houston have been understanding about any delays in getting product due to the storm.

Other companies have weathered such situations and plan to handle the post-Harvey recovery in much of the same way they've faced other disasters. Arlington Industries, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a leading manufacturer of electrical and communications products since 1949. National Sales Manager Don Ambrose says the company has supplied valuable equipment during recovery after Hurricanes including Katrina, Andrew and Hugo and Sandy. Of the company's 43 independent sales representatives around the United States, 23 stock product. “For Harvey in particular, we had bulked up inventories in Dallas, Nashville and surrounding areas so we could quickly and efficiently get products into these places where we were most likely going to be affected.” Ambrose says one of the biggest priorities during storm recovery is restoring power. “There will be two or three product categories that will be in really sharp demand – things like mast kits, weather heads,” shares Ambrose. The company's Houston sales representative did have a warehouse with product that fortunately was not affected by nearby flooding and even had power to its building. Ambrose says if more materials are needed, the company would first divert supplies to Houston and then consider increasing the manufacturing of product.

The biggest challenge most companies see in the immediate future is moving their products out of Houston-based warehouses and getting product in to affected areas. They are optimistic transportation will be a priority as the region makes recovery plans.

Of course, another potential weather threat, Hurricane Irma is churning in the Atlantic. Manufacturers say planning ahead is a matter of doing business when you are supplying to the construction industry. “We are watching this stuff all the time are we are very quick to respond,” says Ambrose. Since Arlington Industries makes 92 percent of its products in Pennsylvania, “We can respond quickly because we make it. It's our people making the decisions. If you're an American company and you make stuff here, it allows you to be a heck of a lot more responsive and less disruptive to your overall business when something like this happens.”



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