Stress Test: Ida, Pandemic Challenge N.O. Economy’s Resilience

Hurricane Ida Power Grid
Power crews begin work on power lines leading to a fire station as residents try to recover from the effects of Hurricane Ida Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Waggaman, La. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

NEW ORLEANS – On this week’s Biz Talks podcast, Jerry Bologna of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission (JEDCO) talks about challenges local businesses have faced in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Here are highlights from the conversation:

How did Ida affect Jefferson Parish businesses?

Jefferson is so diverse geographically. It’s well documented how devastated low-lying communities like Grand Island and Lafitte have been. The damage there is really unspeakable. We’ve been offering resources and trying to help. But I think as you get into the levee protection system, as you go from west to east in the parish, the damage gets a little less and is limited to wind damage.  But, as you know, one of the big problems our businesses have faced is the loss of power and the disruption in the supply chain yet again.

Are there specific problems you’ve heard about? 

Supply chain issues have certainly been amplified since the COVID crisis. So in the early days after Ida businesses were having trouble getting fuel and supplies so they could continue operations. We’ve seen problems with the mail service. We’ve become so reliant on technology and telecommunications that it’s been a real challenge for businesses to not have reliable internet and telephone lines. But our businesses have learned to be resilient, they’ve learned that every one of these disruptions in the workplace is different, and they have to react differently each time. 

It’s been one challenge after another. It must just be unbelievably frustrating for business owners at this point.

Absolutely. When we adopted our long-term strategic plan last year, we really looked at it through the lens of resiliency. How do we harden our economy? How do we diversify our economy? How do we prepare our businesses to be more resilient? Because there are disruptions regardless of where you’re located. Texas had freezes and things they weren’t prepared for. Regardless of where you are, the disruptions to the economy seem to be coming faster and more frequently. Certainly, though, the mobile workforce and the ability to work remotely have helped a lot of companies work through Hurricane Ida.

So what resources are needed right now?

We’re encouraging our businesses to apply for their FEMA assistance and file insurance claims. The SBA has EIDL loans and disaster loans. But one of the things we’re advocating for is … forgiveness of earlier loans. We have businesses in this community that are still paying on Katrina-related disaster loans. Now they’ve taken out disaster loans related to COVID. The last thing they need in a time like this is to assume even more debt. So I think our businesses really, really need a break when they’ve been battered so many times in the last couple of years. 

In the last 18 months, we’ve had four COVID spikes and two hurricanes. In light of that, what makes you worried about the future of the economy and what makes you optimistic?

I think the optimism comes from the diversity of our economy. Through COVID, Jefferson Parish showed an uptick in revenues. I think nobody would have predicted that going into the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. So that gives me great hope for the future as we continue to build a more resilient economy. 

I think in terms of apprehension, you never want to see your community deal with disasters like this – and we’ve dealt with them: hurricanes, oil spills and pandemics. They’re never easy and you worry about exhaustion from the business community. But I think we do have a good story to tell. The more resilient we are, I think this continues to be a destination for business.

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