Storm rebuilding efforts spark local economy around Chattanooga

Storm rebuilding efforts spark local economy around Chattanooga

June 15th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

Brian Cabrera, right, and William Howard work to put a new roof on a tornado-damaged home in southern Bradley County. They and other local contractors have seen a large boost in business in the wake of recent widespread local storm damage.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

On a tornado-ripped hill in Bradley County overlooking Apison, Aaron Scroggins, Brian Cabrera and William Howard are restoring a roof and doing a little something for the economy as well - especially their own.

If there is a good side to the some 300 tornadoes that razed the South in late April, it is the boost that rebuilding and restoring is providing to local economies.

Scroggins, a roofer, said he was working about two days a week for the last year and a half before record-setting storms swept through Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.

Since then, he's working every day.

"We could work seven days a week if we wanted to," he said.

And his work has a multiplier effect. He can't roof without new shingles, nails and other supplies. Those purchased materials pay suppliers as well as local and state sales taxes.

With thousands of homes damaged and tens of millions of dollars in insurance checks and federal disaster aid flowing into the tri-state region, there's "years of work" to be done, said an official who represents East Tennessee contractors.

In Ringgold, Ga., so much rebuilding is going on that Parker Young Construction Inc. had to go to Atlanta to find additional roofing subcontractors.

That gave Christopher Juarec extra days of work, too.

"There is a lot of work here," Juarec said. "We did two roofs today."

Economists who have researched disaster impacts from floods, tornadoes and hurricanes have found that a storm's economic disruption is followed by increased economic activity when insurance money and disaster relief flow in to start restoration.

Roger Tuder, president of the Associated General Contractors of America in East Tennessee, said construction workers are getting back to work after months of slow times, but it's a bittersweet boom.

"This is not the kind of recovery we wanted to see, but it is helping," he said. "There's a lot of people who have been out of work who are working again now. We don't want to prey on those people's pain, but there are some opportunities. And the survivors deserve to get back into their homes and businesses."

Officials with the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama insurance commissions said last week they do not have tallies on tornado damage insurance claims.

But federal money has been flooding in to cover some costs.

On Friday, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said more than $16.7 million in federal assistance has been awarded in Tennessee since the late April tornadoes and May floods that hit West Tennessee areas. Eighty of the state's 95 counties have been declared federal disaster areas.

Officials said 6,435 disaster-damaged homes have been inspected by federal officials or contractors - about 1,530 of those in Southeast Tennessee.

In Georgia, FEMA had awarded $4.1 million since the late April tornadoes, and an additional $3.9 million in loans had been granted by the Small Business Administration.

Alabama survivors, hardest hit when tornadoes slammed two of that state's largest cities - Tuscaloosa and Birmingham - have received more than $50 million from FEMA.

Tuder said some contractors have told him they have been able to hire back workers who were laid off last year, and they are even beginning to make new hires.

"There may very well be some supply issues," he said, but the glut of work may help materials manufacturers bring back idled employees, as well.

Barrie Davenport, owner of the home Scroggins was working on last week, said he didn't have any trouble finding a contractor.

"It's finding the insurance [adjuster and check] that's been hard," Davenport said.

Tuder said many contractors, like homeowners, have been frustrated by insurance delays.

"I know the adjusters are out there, but there's so much damage. There is years of work out there," he said.

At Davenport's Bradley County home, Scroggins looked down the hill at a landscape of homes with blue tarp-covered roofs.

"The ones with tarps are still waiting on insurance," he said.