BP Oil Spill Creates a Wave of New Jobs, Takes Others Under

BP and others are hiring thousands of workers to clean up the oil spill, bringing customers to hotels and restaurants while other businesses -- like fishing companies -- suffer from the beach closures.
BP and others are hiring thousands of workers to clean up the oil spill, bringing customers to hotels and restaurants while other businesses -- like fishing companies -- suffer from the beach closures.

Mark Wilkie is a busy guy these days, and he has the BP oil crisis to thank. Wilkie, vice president of Sebastian, Fla.-based Granite Environmental, is working full-throttle to fill his Oklahoma and Florida factories with new employees to handle the crush of orders for cleanup equipment. The company's already hired 24 new factory workers in Oklahoma and 14 in Florida, he told DailyFinance in an email interview Friday.

While the expanding oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to impact the environment for years to come, Granite is one of a dozens of companies seeing business boom as a result. The oil spill is drawing in a boatload of orders for equipment and services to mop up the mess, and that translates to a surge in hiring for the cleanup companies.

"I know from talking with a competitor that they brought on 6 Chinese plants," Wilke says. "As for the trickle-down effects of logistics and materials vendors, that has exponentially grown as they have had to scramble to meet demand."

Gaining from the Spill

It's not just companies directly involved with cleaning up the oil spill, either. Others reaping benefits from the catestropic tragedy include hotels, grocery stores, laundromats and other service providers that dot the coastal communities that line the Gulf, where cleanup staging areas have been set up. For example, the Empire Inn and Venice Inn Motel, based in the coastal Louisiana communities that bear their names, say they are seeing a wave of business from the workers involved in the cleanup.

"I'm booked up at both hotels and I've been trying to hire maids here since the spill," says Melissa Taylor, an assistant business office manager for both inns. "We normally have two maids at Empire and could probably use five, and normally have four at Venice, but could use six or seven. In fact, I'll be doing maid work at Empire because we're short staffed. I've had to do that a couple times in the past month and a half."

At this time of year, the two inns are usually only 60% full, with most rooms occupied by regular seasonal customers, such as oil-field workers and leisure fishermen taking advantage of the area's chartered fishing trips. But now, the inns have no vacancies and 70% of their guests are involved in oil cleanup, she says.

Surrounding businesses, from barber shops to laundromats to grocery stores, are also posting more business as a result. Darren Fremin, co-owner of Fremin's Food Market in neighboring Port Sulphur, La., is one such business. Since the oil spill, Fremin has increased his workforce to 50 employees from 40, he says.

The Cleanup Crew

As of Friday, approximately 25,000 workers have been assigned to the cleanup, including current BP employees and contractors, according to a BP spokesman. Contractors also do their own hiring for the cleanup too. On Thursday, for example, Ashland Cleaning Services interviewed 396 potential job candidates at a Louisiana Workforce Commission office in Houma, La. From that group, 392 were hired and received four hours of safety training before being shuttled 70 miles to Grand Isle, La., to report for work, says Curt Eysink, executive director with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

And as more oil washes up on the states beaches and marshes, cleanup hiring is expected to escalate, potentially mitigating some of the joblessness that has hit particular sectors of Louisiana's workforce. Since the oil spill, 12,000 Louisiana residents have filed unemployment claims, with most of the filings coming from the southern part of the state from folks displaced by the oil spill, Eysink said.

Those hit hardest have included sportfishing charter boat operators and related businesses, local fisherman and shellfish farmers along Louisiana's coastline.

In an effort to pay bills, some of these boat operators are seeking work from the same company that created the record mess. In mid-May, for example, 1,113 fishermen had signed contracts with BP under its "Vessels of Opportunity" program and another 147 were on call, according to U.S. Coast Guard Private Stephen Lehmann.

Fishing Industry Suffers

Charter fishing boats based off of Louisiana's coast have sustained a large hit, as tourists have canceled their sport fishing trips due to the oil spill, says Louis Houvenaeghel, general manager of Delta Marina in Empire, La. He's frustrated that so many would-be tourists assume the entire coast is closed for fishing, instead of just those areas that are actually affected. The timing couldn't be worse: The disaster comes right as the area is headed into its peak fishing season, and Houvenaeghe says he's having to consider layoffs as a result.

The absence of fishers is cutting into the $1.36 billion in tourism dollars that Louisiana's nine coastal parishes contribute annually to the state's $8.3 billion tourism industry. Those parishes provide 14,980 tourism-related jobs that add up to a payroll of $238 million, according to Jim Hutchinson, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Tourism & Cultural Department.

In an attempt to generate revenues, Houvenaeghel has spent the past 30 days sending out a constant stream of proposals to BP and other cleanup contractors to consider using The Delta Marina -- with its fuel dock, hotel, restaurant and charter fishing business -- as a base station for their work. He's gotten no nibbles to date.

But Hutchinson is unenthusiastic about the idea of replacing seasonal tourists with oil-cleanup workers in any case. "This sounds good on the surface, but it's not necessarily a good thing," he says. "Sport fishermen aren't benefiting and while the hotels and restaurants may be busy, if they're turning away their regular customers, these customers may never come back, even after the oil's cleaned up and the workers leave."