COM­PA­NIES PICK­ING UP THE PIECES IN HOUS­TON

Road back from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey has be­gun, will take weeks if not months

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Roger Yu @ByRogerYu USA TO­DAY

“We’re open for busi­ness. I want to make that clear.” Bob Eury, president of Cen­tral Hous­ton, a non-profit group that plans busi­ness de­vel­op­ment in the city

Amid piles of wet dry­wall and ru­ined elec­tri­cal sys­tems, Hous­ton busi­nesses are inch­ing back to nor­malcy.

Thou­sands of com­pa­nies af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey are tear­ing down walls and doors, in­stalling de­hu­mid­i­fiers, shuf­fling work shifts, for­ti­fy­ing se­cure In­ter­net con­nec­tions for peo­ple who work re­motely and pool­ing funds to help col­leagues.

The re­cov­ery work is far from smooth, and tasks such as ne­go­ti­at­ing with in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, find­ing enough money for re­pairs and deal­ing with trau­ma­tized, no-place-togo em­ploy­ees will take weeks, if not months. Many small busi­ness own­ers with­out flood in­sur­ance, in par­tic­u­lar, are pos­si­bly look­ing at years of debt and bank­rupt­cies.

Still, the mood in Hous­ton’s busi­ness cor­ri­dors, like the weather, has lifted, says Bob Eury, president of Cen­tral Hous­ton, a non-profit group that plans busi­ness de­vel­op­ment in down­town Hous­ton, which daily sees about 150,000 work­ers. “It’d ap­pear that most em­ploy­ers in down­town are back up and op­er­at­ing,” he said Thurs­day. “It feels like a nor­mal day to­day. We’re open for busi­ness. I want to make that clear.”

The cy­cle of de­struc­tion and re­cov­ery will re­play in much of Flor­ida in the com­ing weeks as homes and busi­nesses af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Irma also be­gin to dig out. While Texas and Flor­ida dif­fer in in­dus­tries, they are among two of the na­tion’s largest and most eco­nom­i­cally in­flu­en­tial states. And the pace of their re­cov­ery could have sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for the broader na­tional econ­omy.

En­ergy is Hous­ton’s pri­mary eco­nomic en­gine, with many oil com­pa­nies, re­finer­ies, pipe­line op­er­a­tors and oil rig equip­ment mak­ers based in the re­gion. But it’s also home to some of the world’s most renowned hos­pi­tals and a thriv­ing aero­space cor­ri­dor, thanks to a siz­able pres­ence of the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of the Hous­ton–The Wood­lands– Su­gar Land met­ro­pol­i­tan area was $503.3 bil­lion in 2015, the fourth largest of any metro area in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to govern­ment data, so it’s im­por­tant to the na­tion that com­pa­nies and peo­ple get back to work as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Af­ter Har­vey struck the re­gion, roughly 27% of all leasable space in Hous­ton, in­clud­ing apart­ments, could be flooded, or about 600 mil­lion square feet, es­ti­mated CoStar Group, a com­mer­cial real es­tate in­for­ma­tion firm. About 70 mil­lion of it was of­fice build­ings, in­clud­ing low-rise struc­tures.

Dam­age from Har­vey would likely reach $150 bil­lion to $200 bil­lion, Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics es­ti­mated.

Buf­falo Bayou, the slow-mov­ing river that stretches through down­town, over­flowed af­ter days of rain, flooding the theater district and other parts of down­town.

Wa­ter — or more ac­cu­rately, a black mix­ture of chem­i­cals, sewage and wa­ter — has been pumped out, hav­ing left about $15 mil­lion of dam­age.

PHO­TOS BY AL­LEY THEATER

Work­ers be­gin clean­ing up Al­ley Theater in Hous­ton, which was heav­ily flooded af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

HOUS­TON BAL­LET

Work­ers be­gin the long process of clean­ing up and re­pair­ing fa­cil­i­ties at the Hous­ton Bal­let af­ter Har­vey.

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