Business journalists have been asking the question since the day Hurricane Katrina struck - what will it mean to the economy?
It's an extremely sensitive topic. No one wants to appear to be more interested in money than human lives. Especially when there's a hint from some experts that rebuilding the devastated cities and towns could mean a boost to the economy.
So, as you've read or watched news coverage of the hurricane in recent weeks, the economic impact has been a minor part of the story.
Still, plastics processors and resin suppliers are interested, especially those who serve the construction market. And now details - not just guesses - are starting to surface.
As Angie DeRosa reports in this issue, the Gulf region suffered $100 billion in damages from Katrina, including $50 billion to the housing stock and $50 billion in business and public infrastructure.
Already, the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to buy all the manufactured homes it can get its hands on. And FEMA is considering the next step: specifications for more manufactured homes that it certainly will buy in significant numbers.
It's unclear at this point how much infrastructure work will need to be repaired or replaced, but obviously it will be significant. Next will come conventional homes. That work probably will be spread out over several years.
Companies that serve the construction market are gearing up to handle the expected workload. But right now they're taking the right attitude - that mainly they want to be prepared to help.
Bob Walker, executive director with UniBell PVC Pipe Association based in Dallas, had a typical comment: ``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?''
All over the plastics industry, we see people offering to help. As we promised several weeks ago, we have continued to update our Hurricane Katrina coverage, including a special page on our Web site at www.plasticsnews.com/katrina. There you can find links to charities and associations that are working to help - some plastics-related, and some general interest - along with copies of our hurricane coverage.
Some of the significant links added in recent weeks are worth a special mention:
* The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s hurricane Web page, at www.plasticsindustry.org/public/katrinaresources.htm, now gives people the option to volunteer specific resources. There's a long list of needed materials and assistance, including sections on plastics processing types, secondary operations and resins.
* The Society of Plastics Engineers has developed a Web site, www.4spe.org/katrinablog, as a service for members to ask for help or to offer assistance to plastics businesses in the affected area.
* The National Tooling & Machining Association also is creating a Web-site area for members to post listings describing the availability of open machining capacity.
With all the news reports describing less-than-satisfactory responses to this disaster, or sometimes downright inhuman treatment, it is heartening to see the rapid and unselfish response from so many members of the plastics community.