Hudson Valley businesses counting on feds for crucial Sandy aid

Boatmaster Ian MacKay of Piermont and Deborah Brenner

Boatmaster Ian MacKay of Piermont and Deborah Brenner of Tappan clean up outside of Cafe Portofino restaurant at 587 Piermont Ave. in downtown Piermont. (Oct. 31, 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

When Hurricane Sandy knocked out his electricity in November, chief executive Jon Prusmack used a generator to keep the lights and computers running in his offices at DHS Systems, an Orangeburg company that manufacturers field shelters for the military. But work on his 120,000-square-foot assembly floor ground to a halt.

"We lost production for a week here. We had no power because we can't run these machines," said Prusmack, who sent 160 workers home to wait out the storm. "But we paid all our employees. We figure it wasn't their fault."

Prusmack estimated that he lost around $500,000 because of Sandy. For a $200 million company like DHS Systems, that's a relatively small number. But it's representative of the financial losses suffered by thousands of Hudson Valley companies in the storm.


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Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tallied up damage estimates and asked the federal government for a special appropriation of $41.9 billion to fund repairs and recovery, including around $680 million for Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties. The vast majority of the aid for the Hudson Valley, around $510 million, would go to businesses.

That money is separate from relief given to residents and businesses by Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration.

President Barack Obama and Congress are now reviewing Cuomo's request. On Monday, the governor is scheduled to visit Washington to discuss the request with officials.

Although winds and flooding damaged some businesses' buildings and equipment, most companies are up and running but trying to determine, like DHS Systems, how a week or two without power is going to affect their bottom lines as the year ends, said Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association.

"The major issue that was reported to us was the loss of heat and power," Samuels said. "We had people who were unable to operate. That's where the loss of productivity came in."

Marsha Gordon, president of the Business Council of Westchester, added that many businesses had to close down because they couldn't communicate without electricity.

"A lot of business had a great deal of lost productivity because of computers and telephones that were down," she said.

She said that Cuomo's request is crucial to helping companies bounce back.

"The governor is stepping up to the plate to support New York's business," said.

Luckeyou Design in Irvington, for example, avoided the flooding that damaged other businesses located in the Bridge Street office complex on the Hudson River because the graphic design studio is on the second floor. But co-owner Tim Dingersen had to become creative when it became clear power outages would keep the studio from meeting deadlines on clients' projects.

"We didn't have power for seven days," said Dingersen, who lives in Bronxville. "We were able to move to my house for a while."

Prusmack and Dingersen weren't sure whether they were going to apply for aid. But they said the federal government should grant Cuomo's request. Some businesses won't be able to sustain losses incurred during the storm. If they close down, they could trigger a ripple effect that harms the regional economy just as the recession appeared to be fading, they said.

"I'm not trying to be altruistic," Prusmack said. "I'm tying to be realistic."

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