As the Gulf Coast region begins the arduous process of rebuilding 90,000 square miles of devastated land, plastic-related building products are going to play a key role.
The region suffered $100 billion in damages, with $50 billion to housing stock and $50 billion to business and public infrastructure, said Mark Zandi, chief economist with Economy.com Inc. in West Chester, Pa.
To start rebuilding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to purchase the existing stock of manufactured homes, which primarily are made of vinyl siding and shingled roofs. The homes number a couple thousand, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute in Arlington, Va.
FEMA officials are putting out specs for the types of manufactured homes they want the industry to build.
``It does have a boost for certain industries. We're still waiting on the numbers,'' said Bruce Savage, MHI vice president of public affairs, in a Sept. 12 telephone interview. He estimates 10,000-20,000 homes could be needed.
FEMA also is assessing the long-term need for manufactured housing, but no numbers were available.
Katrina's full impact will not be realized for years, said officials from the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders. NAHB said past experience has shown that replacing units destroyed by the storm will not begin for many months and will take place slowly, over years.
Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Associated General Contractors of America, based in Alexandria, Va., said there are not a lot of excess construction laborers with the required skills.
``Reconstruction requires specialized contractors who close breeches in levies and canals, work on temporary housing and industrial facilities, and repair and rebuild the transportation, power, communication and sanitation infrastructure,'' Simonson said during a Sept. 6 teleconference on Katrina's impact.
The teleconference was held by the National Association for Business Economics.
``Construction employment will increase in the region,'' he said. ``But increased construction employment will also flow the other way as people relocate, other ports increase capacity, transportation activity with changes in distribution patterns, construction of general nonresidential facilities such as warehouses, casinos and hotels.''
Rich Gottwald, president of the Washington-based Plastics Pipe Institute, said one of the keys to rebuilding a city is to start with a solid underground foundation.
``Once the basic, human needs of the citizens there have been met, PPI and its members will explore ways to help local officials rebuild and restore gas, water, sewer and telecommunications infrastructure in their communities,'' he said.
PVC pipe makers that serve the buried water, sewer, drainage and irrigation pipe markets just started talking about their role.
Bob Walker, executive director with UniBell PVC Pipe Association in Dallas, said his organization is hopeful that the buried infrastructure still is useful and structurally sound, only requiring cleaning.
``We think the construction is down the road a little bit, and also that the buried infrastructure is not so severely affected. Certainly, we want to help,'' he said. ``We don't envision a big windfall of business out of this. What we're asking is, how can we donate or contribute and be part of the solution?''
Geocell Systems Inc. of San Francisco is on call by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for use of its Rapid Deployment Flood Wall, made from a copolyester sheet. The product can be used in place of sandbags.
Officials use the example of flooding in Utah earlier this year, where Geocell mobilized within a couple of hours and built a 460-foot wall in 35 minutes, using untrained personnel.
``We have a weapon of mass construction,'' said Geocell President Al Arellanes. ``Our material can be used as a protective measure. It's designed to save lives and property. We might not have been able to save New Orleans, but placing our RDFW around hospitals, key installations, would have held back water long enough for evacuation.''
Geocell also is trying to get the product stockpiled at sites throughout the United States in the event of any emergency, which Arellanes said ``will greatly aid in [U.S.] preparedness.''