Local is Best in Storm Recovery Work

Sep 18, 2020

The slick, out-of-town salesman thought I might be an easy target. Although 16 derecho-felled trees in my yard had been cleaned up with the help of family, the 17th was going to require more than we could muster. The only way the monster of a pine tree laying on top of my house was coming down was with a crane and some logging equipment a lot fancier than my 16-inch chain saw. So the guy from Texas explained how he would help maximize my insurance payoff. And then the guy from Wisconsin told me how fast he could get some equipment mobilized. And then I saw more trucks and business cards with unrecognizable area codes parade through.

No thanks, guys. I’m not going to spend my professional life promoting the economic necessity of supporting local companies and local labor, and then turn my back on that principle in my time of need.

A few days later – in some desperation as my house was placarded as unsafe to enter because of the tree – I got a visit from two more companies. Hankin’s Crane & Construction out of Coggon and Molitor Utilities out of Marion were well-represented by two local guys who said they typically do commercial/industrial/public utility projects but felt compelled to try to help out in the storm-damaged neighborhoods. They hadn’t ever done tree removal in residential areas, but they had the equipment, the experience and the credentials. They quoted me a much lower price than any other offer and didn’t bother with any insurance schemes.

The soonest any other contractor thought they could get on site was about 10 days out. “How soon would you guys be able to get here?” I asked.

“Oh, it’ll probably take us about 10 minutes to get here,” they said. “We’re right down the street and can come here next.”

I’m glad my derecho recovery story includes using local labor. But this is no disrespect to folks who perhaps had little choice but to use an out-of-town contractor in an emergency situation. Heck, city governments and regulated utilities relied heavily on out-of-town help in the initial response, and thank God they did. The urgent, initial needs were just too big of a job to get done with the people we had here. We’ve largely moved into a new phase of recovery now. If your reroofing job, siding repair, gutter replacement, sidewalk or driveway work, electrical upgrade, carpentry needs or new landscaping can afford to wait in line for a local contractor, please consider that over hiring crews who needed Google maps to get here.

The Economic Alliance has made a “local-first mindset” the centerpiece of our Rally C.A.P. campaign to champion and support local businesses. Part of it is economics – almost 70 percent of a dollar spent with a locally owned company gets returned back to the local economy, about three times the impact of a dollar spent with an out-of-state contractor. Part of it is quality. Local contractors with decades-long reputations in town are going to make sure anything with their name on it has long-lasting quality, and they’ll make it right if it doesn’t. In tough economic times, we also need to support those companies that are providing wages, jobs, capital investment and community spirit.

We all play a role in that with the buying choices we make every day.

Without power for a few days and with limited staff, the Economic Alliance was still able to almost immediately spin up a derecho business recovery resource web page with lists of local contractors and other resources for people to reference. We also are providing business financial assistance information in this Report and our web page. We’ll continue to keep all of these resources updated at www.cedarrapids.org/derecho so you have options to help with your storm recovery, and you can also check our membership directory for a searchable database of local companies. Additionally, our “think local” message is very similar to the philosophy shared by our friends and partners at Hawkeye Labor Council, the Cedar Rapids – Iowa City Building & Construction Trades Council and many of the Locals representing construction trades. Look to those organizations for contractor suggestions, too.

-Doug Neumann, executive director

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