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When lights went out, agency sprung into action

Business Action Center advocacy team was proactive about getting Sandy-struck companies back online

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Sandy did half a million dollars' damage to Quantex's equipment, Jim Menoutis says, but the state's proactive response 'was just phenomenal, from a business standpoint.'
Sandy did half a million dollars' damage to Quantex's equipment, Jim Menoutis says, but the state's proactive response 'was just phenomenal, from a business standpoint.' - (AARON HOUSTON)

Quantex Laboratories had long been looking for a new home.
The 20-year-old contract research organization was bursting at the seams of its 3,500-square-foot headquarters at Heller Industrial Park, in Edison. CEO Jim Menoutis said he'd spent many months scoping out potential sites and fielding calls from out-of-state economic development offices, though he was zeroing in on a site in North Jersey.

But when Hurricane Sandy hit, Menoutis shifted from relocation to recovery instantly.

The storm zapped the company's power supply, shutting off thousands of dollars worth of sensitive lab equipment for more than a week and closing off even basic communication, like e-mail, for a day and a half.

When he was able to access his e-mail, though, "the first thing I get is an e-mail from Bill Geigerich, from the Business Action Center, saying, 'What can we do for you? How are you doing? How did you fare?" Menoutis said.

Geigerich is one of eight business advocates within the New Jersey Business Action Center's Office of Business Advocacy. The center is one prong of the state's Partnership for Action, a business-focused coalition that also includes the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Choose New Jersey.

In normal times, the business advocacy unit helps companies apply for incentives, navigate the regulatory process or select new sites. But when Sandy hit, the unit went into first-responder mode, calling the 350 clients it has worked with to ensure they were OK, and make sure those thinking about relocating within the state or coming here were undeterred.

"Our motivation was to make sure if a business was displaced or disrupted, we could get them served as fast as possible, to ensure they didn't leave New Jersey," said Lauren Moore, the center's deputy executive director.

Moore said the danger of losing jobs after the storm was acute.

"When you have a couple of feet of water in your business and a company has operations in other states, and those other operations have the capacity to absorb the production capacity that's in New Jersey, that's a concern for us," he said.

Geigerich gave Menoutis his cell number and the two spoke later that day.

"It was probably one of the worst cases I handled," Geigerich said. "They had no power and they had time-sensitive contracts with these pharma companies."

Geigerich acted as a go-between connecting Menoutis and his utility, Public Service Electric & Gas.

Quantex's problems didn't end when power was restored Nov. 7. That's because a nor'easter blew into the state that same day, setting back utility workers and again knocking out Quantex's power.

"We're happy, we're powering up all the equipment and everything is drawing a tremendous amount of power," Menoutis said. "And both the transformer on the pole goes and the capacitors go. I don't know which one went first, but it was like fireworks outside."

Geigerich again helped coordinate power restoration, which was accomplished within a couple of days. He also helped guide Menoutis through the disaster unemployment insurance program, got a letter explaining the power outage for Quantex's insurance company, and helped the firm apply for a line of credit through the Economic Development Authority's Main Street Disaster Program.

Still, the storm brought the business to a halt, and caused what Menoutis estimates is half a million dollars in equipment losses and damage. It also prompted the company to pull the trigger on its move. The firm chose to lease approximately 14,000 square feet of lab and office space in Cranbury, one of the sites they'd considered before the storm. They moved in Jan. 28.

Andrew T. Litecky, president and CEO of Shupper Brickle Equipment Co., in Millstone Township, also got a phone call from the Business Action Center. He'd worked with the agency when he built a new headquarters in 2010 and ran into trouble with red tape. Business Advocate Joe Constance helped him at the time, and it was Constance who phoned shortly after Sandy struck.

"I took it as a compliment because I know the gentleman that I deal with, Joe Constance," Litecky said. "It was proactive on his part, and I was impressed."

Shupper Brickle faced similar problems to Quantex. They lost power and waited several days for it to return, only to lose power a second time with the nor'easter. The company manufactures overhead handling equipment, and no power meant no work. Constance was in touch with the company's utility, Jersey Central Power & Light, to monitor restoration efforts and ensure the company was on JCP&L's radar. Litecky said the company's now back at 100 percent.

Meanwhile Menoutis, at Quantex, is still very much in the thick of getting his operations back up to full speed. He said he's only at about 50 percent to 60 percent of capacity, but the proactive assistance from the state made a difference.

"I couldn't believe how responsive the Business Action Center was," he said. "It was just phenomenal, from a business standpoint."

Moore hopes that message travels outside the state, as well. He wants businesses to know the state wants to help them prosper here, no matter how small or large the firm.

"We spend the same time, energy and intellectual capacity on a company whether its 10 employees or 10,000 employees. We bring the same vigor to the customer," he said.

E-mail to: jaredk@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @jaredkaltwasser

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