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Building a strategy to outlast the next crisis Sandy got manufacturers thinking about training, disaster recovery planning

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A generator could protect Vantage Apparel in the event of another Sandy, says Ira Neaman. While it wouldn't keep factory operations running, it would help Vantage reach customers during an outage.
A generator could protect Vantage Apparel in the event of another Sandy, says Ira Neaman. While it wouldn't keep factory operations running, it would help Vantage reach customers during an outage. - ()

The power failures that plunged much of New Jersey into the dark after Hurricane Sandy also forced dozens of factories to temporarily halt production, costing them millions in lost revenue.

Among them was Vantage Apparel, in the Avenel section of Woodbridge, a 36-year old supplier of embroidered and screen-printed apparel for sports and corporate and brand campaigns. A three-day Sandy shutdown cost the company about $1 million in revenue, according to President Ira Neaman. To avoid a similar fate in future disasters, the company has received a state Recovery4Jersey training grant.

"By partnering with the state and receiving crisis management training, we can structure a course of action that ensures the protection of our employees as well as the preservation of business operations, no matter what event we are forced to confront," Neaman said.

The $24,000 state grant, which the company is matching with $52,000 of its own resources, is part of the $26 million HireNJ package of training programs rolled out by Gov. Chris Christie's administration to help businesses rebound from Sandy.

Neaman said among the options he will explore during the crisis management exercise will be investing in an electricity generator. That would be a six-figure investment, he said, and would not be designed to keep the factory floor in production. Rather, it would keep phone, e-mail and Internet service running, so that in a power failure, Vantage "would still have the ability to reach out to customers, and communicate with them on a regular basis about the status of their orders."

Vantage has about 300 employees in Avenel, and smaller facilities in St. Louis and Santa Ana, Calif. If New Jersey went down, he said, the company could ship inventory to its other plants and keep filling orders.

The training will be conducted by the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, which in the aftermath of Sandy worked with more than 1,000 manufacturers harmed by the storm, helping them deal with power and insurance issues and find equipment and temporary production space.

John Kennedy, chief operating officer of NJMEP, said his organization began formulating a disaster planning training program right after Sandy, based on feedback from Sandy-slammed manufacturers. The program will address contingency planning, energy, insurance and environmental issues, among others.

Neaman said the goal of the training is to "make sure everybody is aware of all the things that can occur, and what contingencies should be in place, and to have a chain of communications. For example, what do you do if the roads are closed and the schools are closed? Who can work from home? Who has laptops?"

Vantage added 70 jobs in New Jersey last year, and expects to add more than 10 this year, according to Neaman.

State Labor Commissioner Harold J. Wirths said HireNJ is designed to "help businesses overcome the economic challenges posed by the storm and maintain the momentum of the state's recovery."

During a tour of Vantage, he said, "For a labor commissioner, this is about as good a story as you can get — a 36-year-old company manufacturing here in New Jersey. Manufacturing is the heartbeat of the nation; it's good to see them expanding."

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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