Sandy Didn’t Douse the Optimism of Jersey Shore Business Owners

NEPTUNE — Shore-area employers, hit hard by Sandy, were given every reason to look at the upcoming year with dread. But most of them have brushed off the storm and are more confident than they have been since before the recession, according to a survey released Friday.

The employers instead say Sandy hasn’t forced them to change their staffing levels or cut back on their raises, a sign that the local economy continues to build momentum.

“Our biggest fear was that particularly in our region here at the Shore, the storm was going to have a major negative impact,” said Ben Waldron, executive director of the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council, a business group that sponsored the survey. “We were pleasantly surprised to see that the general attitude is that the storm is behind us.”

The results of the survey, conducted by Cowan, Gunteski & Co. an accounting firm, were released to about 120 members of the council during a luncheon at the Jumping Brook Country Club.

It was the eighth annual survey, only this one came with particular significance, given the disruption and damage caused by Sandy.

The survey taken before the storm, along with a follow-up after the storm, found a growing level of confidence, mirroring signs that the economy is slowly recovering from the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008.

Observers expected Sandy to derail the Shore’s recovery; a survey by the N.J. Manufacturers Extension Program found 22 percent of the state’s manufacturers lost two or more weeks of production.

Instead, the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council survey found most employers have rebounded.

Take Reedy International. The company manufacturers foaming additives used to make plastic. Its corporate headquarters are in Keyport, where it employs seven workers.

Anne Marie Reedy, the executive vice president, said the company lost power for more than a week. One of the company’s vehicles was damaged by a boat. And its phone system had to be replaced.

But it relied on a satellite office in Charlotte, N.C., to stay in touch with customers. Since then, its business sounds like it has been affected more by budget negotiations in Washington than Sandy.

“I will say by December we were pretty concerned,” Reedy said. “Customers were not telling us a lot. They were not forecasting for us. However, I will say January has been good to us, and February, too. Customers did rally.”

Among the survey results:

• Forty-nine percent said business conditions in Monmouth and Ocean counties in 2013 would be the same as last year; 44 percent said they would be better; and 7 percent said they would be worse. It was the rosiest outlook in the survey’s history.

• Sixty-five percent said employment would remain the same; 31 percent expect to hire; and 4 percent expect to downsize.

• An overwhelming 84 percent expect sales to increase; 14 percent expect them to stay the same; and 2 percent expect them to decline.

“I think things are looking a lot better,” Stephen Reed, managing director of Cowan, Gunteski, said of the findings. “Despite struggles with Sandy, things are moving in the right direction.”

There are plenty of obstacles ahead not related to Sandy. Next up: a showdown in Congress that could sharply cut federal spending. If the economy can somehow avoid the worst of that impact, employers may continue to expand.

Roof Maintenance Systems, a Wall-based company that provides consulting services for commercial and industrial roofs, may add to its staff of 30 and move into a bigger building, said Steve Guliano, director of sales and marketing.

Click here to view the original article published by the Asbury Park Press.

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