Once Mick Arnold absorbed the depths of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey last month, his thoughts turned to plastic.
Specifically, he worried about supplies of polyethylene, a common plastic used to make plastic wrap, trash bags and those air-filled pockets used to protect products shipped in boxes. Much of it is produced in Houston — and it’s a key component of packaging materials made by his company, Baltimore-based Arnold Packaging.
“Americans don’t always think about where their products come from and how it gets to them,” said Arnold, the company’s president. “Companies can make all the products in the world, but if they can’t package it and distribute it, it doesn’t matter.”
Disruptions at plastics plants and oil refineries in Texas, and at farms in Florida that were hit by Hurricane Irma, have sent immediate ripples through the nation’s supply chain, and could linger if workers can’t return to their jobs or the facilities can’t be easily repaired. Arnold said effects could also be felt by businesses and consumers when resources such as trucks and lumber are diverted to affected areas for cleanup.
In big and small ways, consumers are likely to feel a pinch, either through higher prices or less access to products, even if the items are made and sold far from the storm-ravaged states.
Gas prices rose more than 30 cents a gallon after Harvey struck, peaking at $2.67 per gallon nationally on Sept. 7, according to the auto services provider AAA.
Prices have moderated in recent days, even as Irma was causing damage, said Regina Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The average price per gallon nationally held steady at $2.66 Tuesday, just a penny more than a week ago. In Maryland, the price averaged $2.72 a gallon, down from $2.74 a week before.
“This is all because of the refineries in the Gulf,” Averella said. “As the refineries slowly come back online, we can expect gas prices to remain volatile, with a somewhat tight supply.”
Companies in the Baltimore-area that receive supplies from Texas and Florida are still assessing the effects, as are those that have operations in those states.
Wegmans, which operates eight stores in Maryland, was still gathering information Tuesday from suppliers and trucking companies, spokeswoman Jo Natale said.
Some produce that’s imported through Miami, such as packaged baby vegetables, bulk snow peas and sugar snap peas, have gone out of stock while power in that city is being restored and workers have been unable to return to jobs, she said.
“Stores should be back in stock by Saturday,” Natale said.
The chain’s supply of late fall vegetables, such as green peppers, cucumbers and summer squash, is grown locally, and should continue through mid- to late October, barring any frosts, she said. After that, she said, store officials are hoping Florida farmers will be back on track.
“The Florida growers were just doing plantings, so they should be able to recover,” Natale said. “Plus, we do have other areas we can source from.”
The outlook for other Florida crops is less certain. Some early, unconfirmed reports of citrus crops show as much as a 40 percent loss on grapefruit, juice oranges and tangerines. And businesses are just beginning to assess damage to cane sugar.
Baltimore’s Domino Sugar refinery, part of Florida-based ASR Group, is continuing to operate normally, ASR Vice President Peter O’Malley said.
ASR and its parent companies, Florida Crystals Corp. and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, have been focused on making sure their thousands of employees in that state and their families are safe, and on getting power restored to agricultural and industrial facilities, mainly in Palm Beach County, he said. They are just beginning to assess the state’s crops.
“People are without electricity, without water and that’s all over the place, so we don’t know much right now,” O’Malley said. But the Baltimore refinery, he said, “will operate as normal. … The raw sugar that we bring in to the Baltimore refinery at a rate of 45 ships a year comes from various places in the subtropics and the tropics, and the sugar is harvested and produced at different times of the year. We source it from lots of different places.”
Sparks-based McCormick & Co. Inc. also is assessing the impact to its business, including how the hurricanes affected stores in storm-ravaged areas that sell McCormick products.
Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price has a Florida connection, a client services office in Tampa that employs 415 people. The money-management firm closed at midday Friday and plans to reopen Wednesday for any of the client services employees who are able to come in, spokesman Brian Lewbart said.
The building never lost power, he said, but workers have been through a difficult few days. Some needed to evacuate and many others have been left without power. While the office was closed, some of the work shifted to T. Rowe’s Owings Mills office, and some was handled at an office in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We recognize that associates will continue to have to deal with their personal situations, whether it’s school [closures] and child care or issues related to their property,” Lewbart said. “We have our business contingency plans in place that allow us to shift business to other locations.”
The hurricanes had no effect on cargo business at the Helen Delich Bentley port of Baltimore, but it did force a cruise line with a Baltimore-ported ship to change an itinerary. The Carnival Pride, a Carnival ship, had been scheduled to depart Baltimore on Sunday for the Caribbean. It was rerouted instead to New England and Canada, port spokesman Richard Scher said.
“Whenever you have acts of nature and dangerous storms, it’s pretty common for the cruise lines to make those sorts of changes,” he said.
At Arnold Packaging, Mick Arnold bought enough polyethylene to get through the end of January. He also bought two months’ worth of lumber, which the company uses to make crates for shipping. He said he would have bought more if he had more space to store it.
He hopes those purchases will be enough to stave off shortages.
“I don’t recall two hurricanes in two regions of the country occurring back to back,” he said. “We’ve just not had to deal with this before.”