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Sandy's arrival convinced Goya to put emergency generators in its new HQ

By , - Last modified: August 29, 2013 at 2:54 PM

When Goya Foods broke ground last September on its new Jersey City headquarters and distribution center, executives were debating whether to install permanent backup generators at the 615,000-square-foot facility.

But the option turned into a clear-cut requirement less than two months later, when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on homes and businesses across the Northeast.

The new generators will be one of the most tangible signs of how Sandy affected the Hispanic-owned food manufacturer, which will be based in Secaucus until its new facility opens next summer. Goya (10) is one of several businesses on this year's NJBIZ listing of the top 100 privately held companies that now have to plan with future weather events in mind, but also staved off devastation by preparing for the October superstorm.

Joe Perez, a senior vice president at Goya, said experience in places such as Miami, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic prompted the company to bring in generators ahead of Sandy. So despite getting "hit very hard," it used the backup power to stay operational for nine days, keeping its refrigerators working and maintaining enough light and electricity in its warehouse and offices.

Also key was tight coordination with Goya's sales brokers in the field, who kept tabs on which stores were open, accessible and able to receive products.

"You don't want empty shelves, and it's a responsibility to be able to have food available for the citizens," Perez said. "It's also important for us to keep the rhythm of product going in and out."

The company managed to keep the supply chain whole despite major damage to its rail yard and the region's shipping terminals. Perez said more than 100 Goya containers were damaged at the Port of New York and New Jersey.

For New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co., Sandy marked a new test for a system it had been refining since Hurricane Irene struck in August 2011. The insurer normally has 32 employees who field calls for initial claims, but thanks to cross-training with other departments, it can roll out up to 350 representatives in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

But after Irene, NJM realized the form used by those representatives was too long, so it streamlined the process, spokesman Patrick Breslin said. The new system was tested just in time, only about two months before Sandy.

"It made a tremendous difference in us being able to take in the onslaught of calls during the first two or three weeks," Breslin said. "We have a catalog of suggestions like that from Sandy that we're now deploying for whatever may come in the future."

In the months that followed, NJM increased its staff of adjusters for home-related claims from 39 full-time employees to 686, Breslin said.

Sandy, however, is proving to be much costlier for the century-old, West Trenton-based insurer. Breslin said NJM paid out $75 million claims from Irene, while through early July, the total for Sandy was $270 million.

Aside from the effect on day-to-day operations, companies on the NJBIZ list coped with employees who were personally touched by the storm. That's perhaps even more pronounced for Jersey Shore-area firms such as Viking Yacht Co., based in the New Gretna section of Bass River. Viking spokesman Peter Frederiksen said about 50 of its roughly 800 employees were displaced by the storm, while another 100 were affected in some other way.

"It's hard to get a handle on how much damage there is, because everyone has a unique story to tell," Frederiksen said. "It's a big mess for anyone that's dealing with it, and there are a lot of people still dealing with it today."

Viking's manufacturing facility on the Bass River "weathered the storm without any real issues," while its marina required repairs before the start of the summer. Going forward, there might be little the company can do to mitigate against future storms, he said, noting "we're a marina, we're boat builders, so we need water and we need to be near the water."

However, there was a silver lining for the 50-year-old firm.

"The storm generated a lot of repair business, so we had plenty of people working and they didn't lose their ability to make money, which was a big help," Frederiksen said.

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