By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
November 4, 2012
General Motors' manufacturing plant in White Marsh lost about a day and a half to Cyclone Sandy. But it sustained no damage, missed no shipping deadlines and expected to quickly make up for lost time.
Though that's just about the best-case scenario, it's not rare in the region. Despite the disruption of widespread shutdowns Monday and Tuesday, the Baltimore area missed the worst of Sandy's wallop. The overall economic impact should be modest as a result, economists say, even if for some businesses and residents it was anything but.
"Economically, it doesn't mean much for the Baltimore area," said Richard Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute. "Realistically, three days of bad weather don't have a huge economic impact one way or another when you're not New Orleans after Katrina or New York after this one. New York is still not back to normal."
PNC Financial Services' initial estimate of the economic loss caused by Sandy, originally a hurricane, is around $40 billion in all the states it hit — half due to physical damage and half a result of lost output.
But PNC doesn't expect the losses will have a significant negative effect on the national economy. Most of the areas the storm blew through did not suffer damage substantial enough to put a big dent in the gross domestic product, the firm said.
It's not a no-impact situation in the Baltimore region, for sure. Nearly 350,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers lost power, most on Monday.
The number of customers still out dropped below 3,000 Friday morning. BGE expected almost everyone to have power back by Friday evening, with scattered — more complex — outage repairs potentially dragging into the weekend.
Other infrastructure that businesses rely on — buses, light rail, the Port of Baltimore, government offices — was largely back up by Wednesday.
The port took only "minimal" wind and water damage, nothing that affects operations, said Richard Scher, spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration. "We were certainly very fortunate," he added.
Marcus Garner, general manager at the B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore, has a similar feeling about his Sandy experience. Damage was minor and business was surprisingly good. The restaurant is attached to the Hotel Monaco Baltimore, which was full of guests when the storm hit — Guests who had nowhere else to go, so they ate every meal at the B&O and packed its bar.
Garner figures his staff sold 150 to 200 of its Sandy-inspired hurricane cocktails, topped with granulated brown sugar to look like sand.
The storm completely upended routine, of course. Some workers couldn't make it in. Others stayed overnight at the hotel Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — the Monaco ate that cost, and the restaurant fed everyone in exchange. From managers serving tables to chefs taking turns as line cooks, everybody shouldered tasks they don't normally do.
But those hectic days were more good than bad, Garner said.
"It was a fun experience, to tell you the truth," he said. "It was a little stressful in the beginning, but … you kind of get that bonding experience. It was really nice."
Workers put up at hotels by their employers aren't the only ones who stayed on the clock during the storm. Some simply worked from home — if they had power. Tech companies in particular are good at making out-of-the-office work out, said Jason Hardebeck, who heads gb.tc, the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.
He's not hearing of major issues, but he said he's sure some local companies are feeling an impact, even if only a ripple effect from suppliers in harder-hit states. That's the nature of the economy these days, he noted — everything is interconnected.
Hardebeck said he's hearing from local companies that their takeaway from Sandy is that they need a plan for coping with disaster. The next storm that hits the area may not be milder than expected.
"It actually is a good lesson for all companies to take, if they haven't already figured out disaster recovery or disaster mitigation strategies," he said.
In parts of the state with more damage, businesses aren't thinking about next time — they're still dealing with problems now.
Some Eastern Shore communities flooded. And Garrett County in Western Maryland got more than two feet of heavy, wet snow, courtesy of Sandy.
More than 80 percent of Garrett's population had no power at one point as tree limbs — and entire trees — collapsed under the snow's weight and took out power lines. Nearlt half of Garrett was still without as of Friday morning.
The snow and lack of electricity have had a "tremendous impact" on businesses, said Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. Power had been restored by Thursday to the main commerce areas in Oakland, the county seat, and McHenry, a community at the north end of Deep Creek Lake, Christian said. But the more rural businesses are unable to open, she said.
Still, the economic effect of the storm could have been worse — it could have hit during a high point of the tourist season, Christian said. The fall color tours recently came to an end, she said.
"It's not peak season right now," she said.
It is peak crabbing season, though, particularly for female crabs. The men and women who make a living catching and selling Maryland's iconic crustaceans can lose a week to 10 days as a result of a big storm because they must pull their crab pots out beforehand and wait for debris to disperse afterward.
"It's disruptive," said Michael Luisi, assistant director at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' fisheries service.
The female-crab season is set to close Nov. 10. The state might extend it a few days to account for Sandy's effect, he said.
But, disruptive though Sandy was, Luisi figures the industry's main reaction to the storm is a sigh of relief that damage wasn't as bad here as it was farther north.
As for GM's White Marsh facility, employees shipped transmissions off to other company plants just before the storm, so the supply chain never faltered. With no damage or power outage to contend with, workers picked up Wednesday where they left off Monday, said Mary Ann Brown, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County plant.
GM expected to make up for lost time by bringing workers in on Friday — a day when there's usually no production. Normally, manufacturing there runs four days a week, with workers pulling 10-hour shifts.
All in all, the storm's impact there was relatively low.
"Some employees lost power," Brown said. "I think [Sandy] was more difficult for them than it was for the business."
Baltimore Sun reporter Steve Kilar contributed to this article.
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