Rising From the Ashes

A day after a horrific, deadly tornado leveled Moore, Okla., we were reminded of the rebuilding occurring in another devastated part of the U.S.: New Jersey. Six months after Hurricane Sandy laid waste to shore towns from Seaside Heights north, the state, led by Gov. Chris Christie, is embarking on a marketing campaign about the reconstruction, touting, “Stronger Than the Storm” and “The Jersey Shore Is Open.”

It’s a strong reminder that for every collapse, there is recovery. We’ve seen it in New Jersey and New Orleans, Tuscaloosa and Tokyo, San Francisco and Santiago, and in Joplin, Mo., which suffered its own tornado tragedy nearly two years to the day of the Oklahoma disaster. We saw it, in the biggest challenge of a generation, after the terror of September 11.

And, on an entirely different level, we’ve seen it in the global economy and, specifically, in U.S. housing markets, perhaps the single-strongest driver of today’s global containerized shipping growth and, by extension, that of the intermodal rail and trucking business.

Housing’s recovery from collapse, of course, is great news for many of the beneficial cargo owners making up the Top 100 Importers and Exporters lists appearing on this Web site and in the JOC’s May 27 magazine. It’s certainly true for home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, Nos. 3 and 5 on the list of Top 100 Importers; both benefited from the housing upturn to post first quarter earnings growth.

As Home Depot Chairman and CEO Frank Blake was quick to point out when his company reported a 7.4 percent increase in first quarter net sales last week, “We saw less favorable weather compared to last year, but we continue to see benefit from a recovering housing market that drove a stronger-than-expected start to the year for our business.”

Read more about the JOC’s Top 100 U.S. exporters

Read more about the JOC’s Top 100 U.S. importers

It’s also good news for companies that furnish those homes, from appliance makers such as Electrolux, General Electric and Whirlpool and furniture manufacturers Ashley Furniture and Furniture Brands International to the retailers selling their wares: Wal-Mart, Target, IKEA, Sears, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Pier 1 Imports, among others.

U.S. unit sales of washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, ranges and ovens increased more than 5 percent in this year’s first quarter over a year earlier. And containerized furniture imports have increased for six consecutive quarters on a year-over-year basis, according to JOC Economist Mario O. Moreno.

So, yes, Moore, Okla., and all the global cities that suffer similar tragedies in the future, will recover, too. Homes and businesses will be rebuilt. Transportation in the region will move again. Sadly, we’ll never recover from the human toll.

Fact is, we live in a fragile world fraught with risk. For supply chain interests, that risk ranges from an infrastructure struggling to keep up with maintenance let alone modernization to labor-driven disruption — and, yes, risk from nature’s deadly force that too often brings needed perspective to the business of moving and selling goods.

You can’t, after all, sell a living room from a store that, in the blink of an eye, no longer exists.

Contact Chris Brooks at cbrooks@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/cbrooks_joc


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