About 17 years ago, I had a chance to visit the Gulf Coast as part of a story on the growth of the plastics industry in Mississippi. A year and a half later, I revisited the area in the months after Hurricane Katrina hit the region. The catastrophic loss of life in New Orleans was the centerpiece of most news coverage in the area, for obvious reasons. But the plastics industry in low-lying Louisiana and Mississippi also took a big hit.
In Long Beach, Miss., almost nothing was left standing along the shoreline. Steps led to buildings that were no longer there. Bridges were out, roads damaged.
But for the most part, plastics companies — both molders and resin plants — escaped beyond needing few repairs, with a few unfortunate exceptions. Company leaders I spoke to were gratified to report that none of their employees were killed in the storm. Many of those workers, though, had significant damage to their homes. So firms brought in mobile homes to provide workers with temporary housing. They supplied food and clothes and a place to get fresh water and take a shower.
On Aug. 29, the 16th anniversary of Katrina making landfall near New Orleans, Hurricane Ida hit the same region, just south of the city, as a major storm. It's still far too early to know what impact Ida may have had on plastics firms in the area now, and any extensive shutdowns may add to material shortages and price increases in the coming weeks or months.
I expect we'll hear more soon, both about the impact on material supply and on workers who have already been stressed. But as we do, let's recall one of the biggest lessons for any company facing catastrophe: "Your whole perspective has to be that your business is built around your people,'' one injection molding executive told me at the time. "You are your people, so taking care of your people becomes the No. 1 priority.''