Monday, May 23, 2022
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An econ prof’s view of Hurricane Florence

We asked Adam Jones, an economics professor at UNC Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business, to discuss the impact of Hurricane Florence on the regional economy, the university and his own life. Jones, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, was an economic-development official in Covington, Ga., before entering academia. He has worked at UNCW for nine years. His comments are edited for clarity and brevity.

[media-credit name=”UNC Wilmington” align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]

Will this hurricane inhibit future investment?

If you look at data going with hurricanes, storms don’t show up like you think they might. You see a decline in activity around the storm itself because of the massive disruption. Then in the following quarter, you see a little bump because there is so much rebuilding. It almost evens out.

But what you miss is that money spent on rebuilding can’t be spent on other stuff. And that’s a cost. It’s like when you buy new tires: It feels good initially, but then you realize you’ve spent some money. So you sometimes have to skip eating a few meals out because you have to pay for the tires somehow.

Fortunately, the long-term picture doesn’t change much when it comes to businesses and people moving to the coast. After a year or so, people will forget about this and remember what a great town it is to live in.

Have things returned to normal?

We’ve got a long way to go. The main roads are cleared for traffic and most of the debris is gone. But on smaller roads, there are many piles of tree limbs and cutoff trees standing four feet or higher. You wonder how there could be any trees still standing and you wonder where did all of this stuff come from. It will be November before it’s all done.

What’s the latest on UNCW’s plans?

We’ve been told that students are to plan for classes on Monday. Faculty came back the middle of last week. Students initially were to return last week, but some of the dorms took lots of water damage and couldn’t be fixed in time. There’s still work going on, but they hope to be ready this weekend.

The business school building came through pretty well. We had three large classrooms on the second floor in which all of the ceiling tiles had to be replaced. A couple of faculty offices got pretty wet and some books have to be thrown away. But only one computer was damaged. We consider ourselves quite lucky.

How did the hurricane affect your life?

My wife and I evacuated. We stayed at a relative’s summer home [in Indiana], and we had the place to ourselves. But we also spent all of our time watching the Weather Channel. When you leave your home, you are desperate for information about what is happening. The mental stress of these events is very hard.

The university said we’d be closed quite a while. It wasn’t going to be three days. That gave us the confidence to go farther away.

I live in Landfall, one of Wilmington’s larger subdivisions, and we just got information that they are estimating damages of $3.5 million for street cleanups and road repairs. So we’re waiting for the special assessment because these are nonpublic roads. (Landfall is a gated community.)

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David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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