Tornado Recovery Boosting Alabama's Economy

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Tornado Recovery

CULLMAN, Ala. -- The April tornadoes that decimated much of Alabama were tragic, but analysts think the aftermath might be the catalyst needed to finally kick-start its sluggish economy.

A study released this week found that cleanup and rebuilding in 2011 should pump around $2.6 billion into the state's economy, with the majority coming from insurance claims and federal assistance.

Though economic indicators and unemployment took an initial hit, with the state unemployment rate increasing last month, the University of Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research report anticipates that gains should far outweigh the early losses.

The recovery activities will generate enough revenue to cover damage-induced losses to state finances, as well as the state spending for cleanup if assumptions on losses and spending hold, author Samuel Addy wrote.

While the tornado damage is largely localized, the economic impact of storm recovery will be more widespread. Reconstruction is anticipated to generate gains of up to $2.9 billion, or 1.6 percent, statewide and create more than 51,700 jobs.

With the state now two months removed from the devastating storms, businesses around Cullman County are already reporting that initial declines are beginning to turn around, and businesses in fields related to cleanup are booming.

Many auto repair shops are filled to capacity with vehicles damaged in the storm. Burgess Body Shop and Mullins Body Shop in Cullman both report a wait list of several months due to vehicles with broken windows and other storm damage.

"After the tornado, things went from around normal to about five times as many vehicles," Burgess manager Brian Burgess said. "There was just a whole lot of damage, that created a whole lot of work."

Beth Freeman, with Mullins Body Shop, said work generated by the tornado actually pulled the business out of a small slump.

"We're lined up for storm-damaged vehicles until about September or October, but we did leave some room for wrecked vehicles in there," she said. "Things had been slowing down before that, and of course it's sad how it came about, but things have picked up tremendously now."

At Cullman Overhead and Glass, manager Sherrie Hunter said her business has been extremely busy, doing surveys and replacing glass blown out of downtown buildings.

"Unfortunately, it's sad everyone had so much damage, but it has significantly impacted our business," she said. "Right now, we've been doing a lot of measuring and giving estimates, and we've done plenty of replacements."

Debris removal in damaged areas of the county have also kept local contractors and tree removal services busy. Burks Tree Service owner Carl Burks said his crews have been working nonstop to cut and clear downed foliage.

"It's bittersweet, obviously, but we've been working seven days a week ever since the tornado hit," he said. "Right now, we're a month out on calls."

The local real estate market also seems poised for growth, with the Cullman Association of Realtors President Kerry Neighbors reporting increased interest in commercial and residential properties following a short-term lull.

"Initially we had several tenants going back into homes, like if they had two, and one for sale, and one of them was damaged, initially some were taken off the market for people to move back into," he said. "As far as sales now, we're starting to see more of that, and more of those are coming in. We're also seeing more rentals out there, as well. Commercial is hot, too, with a big rush of businesses looking for somewhere to go."

Temporary housing has also spiked, with cleanup workers flooding into the area and booking hotel rooms across the county.

"It's unfortunate, but the reality is an industry that is doing well are the hotels, because they have been absolutely packed," Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President Kirk Mancer said. "With workers coming in from out of town, and insurance adjusters, we've heard now that some folks have actually had to stay elsewhere, because there are no local rooms available."

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Information from: The Cullman Times, http://www.cullmantimes.com


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