It’s been more than half a year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. For many residents along the Texas Gulf Coast, it’s actually been more than 200 days that they have coped with the aftermath of the storm.
While mountains of debris are still visible, life in some neighborhoods, like parts of Rockport, has been getting better since last August. In other communities, many homes remain boarded up and businesses are still closed.
This article is an update on the post-Harvey recovery progress in the Coastal Bend region. The focus includes challenges faced by individual businesses in the hard-hit areas.
Based on local authorities’ estimates, about 30 percent of homes and non-residential structures were destroyed or deemed uninhabitable in South Texas communities directly hit by Harvey. Those communities are in Rockport-Fulton, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, and across much of Refugio County.
According to Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 12 million cubic yards of storm debris have been picked up across Texas coastal communities so far. Between Aransas County and Port Aransas, Texas Department of Transportation crews have disposed of more than 400,000 cubic yards, nearly 40 percent of the Texas total.
While storm-related debris still spread along the outskirts of those towns, many homes are being rebuilt or repaired and more businesses are open. The Chambers of Commerce in those communities have continuously updated their lists of open and closed businesses.
In October, more than one month after Harvey passed through the Coastal Bend, less than one in four businesses were open in Rockport-Fulton and Port Aransas.
By March, more than half of businesses in Rockport were back in operation, and about one-third of businesses in Port Aransas had reopened.
Should the current recovery trends continue, the Rockport-Fulton business community would be fully recovered before the end of this year.
The recovery pace in Port Aransas has been slower by comparison. A simple extension of its current trend in the number of reopened businesses suggests that the city would not regain its pre-Harvey business population size before mid-2019.
Similarly, the patterns of monthly sales tax collections clearly show that the Rockport-Fulton economy has been recovering much faster than that in Port Aransas. Within two months after Harvey, businesses that were open in Rockport and Fulton together began to generate more sales tax revenues than the amounts in the previous year. Some businesses, particularly restaurants and convenience stores, have been facing less local competition as some of their rivals remained closed.
For Port Aranas, however, the economic toll of Harvey was still evident in February.
Reopened businesses are signs of recovery. Yet many businesses that are now open have not returned to their pre-Harvey conditions in terms of sales or production volume. To learn about the types of assistance that businesses hope to receive in order to move forward, the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce has conducted a survey.
According to more than 100 respondents across Aransas County, major challenges for businesses currently are financial resources and the impacted workforce. More than 40 percent of businesses’ employees have been adversely affected or displaced by Harvey.
Financial assistance has played a key role in the post-Harvey recovery process. While the majority of businesses surveyed have been reimbursed at least partially by insurance companies for repairs and income losses, more than half of business owners had to dip into their personal or business savings as a financing source.
Slightly more than half of respondents (56%) registered with FEMA for assistance. The vast majority of them had received assistance, either through FEMA grants or SBA disaster loans, on working capital, structural repairs, or operating expenses.
Still about 31% of them indicated that they had not been able to receive materials, supplies, and services adequately.
When asked about any additional assistance needed, about half of respondents listed financial assistance. Other types of assistance they desired were about rebuilding their own business: Reaching the client base (23%), expanding sales (22%), and formulating a new market plan (21%).
In addition to business-to-business matching, a large number of respondents required housing assistance for their employees.
The Rockport-Fulton needs assessment survey highlights not only Harvey’s impact on individual businesses, but also how to make a business community resilient to future hurricanes. Even though the Coastal Bend has made great strides in bringing the business community to a “new normal,” many impacted businesses are still in need of additional financial resources or technical assistance.
According to survey respondents, public assistance outside their own communities has been far from adequate.
This article benefits from various datasets shared by Mike Woods, Small Business Coordinator, Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
Visit us online for regular updates on post-Harvey recovery efforts.