No small part of the $50 billion economic loss being attributed to storm Sandy will come from business interruptions suffered by printing firms throughout the tristate metro region. Wherever the damage was worst, the toll taken on these highly vulnerable manufacturing operations was highest. Many remain out of commission, their electrical power gone, their communications severed, their work piling up, and their employees stranded at home with gas gauges pointing at empty. But, as early as yesterday, in some of the less hard hit boroughs and towns, the first signs of recovery were beginning to appear.

Printing Industries Alliance (PIA), the trade association for graphics firms in the region, has been trying to maintain contact with its downstate New York and northern New Jersey members since Sandy made landfall last Monday (Oct. 29). Reaching them has been difficult, said PIA president Tim Freeman, who had been forced to cancel a PIA-sponsored “Innovation Forum” scheduled that day on Long Island as the storm roared in.

Freeman says that his group stands ready to help any printing firm in the region, PIA member or not, that may need to outsource work until its own plant is back up and running. Upstate firms as well as printers from other parts of the country have offered to pitch in, according to Freeman, who can be contacted at 716-983-3826 or by e-mail at [email protected].

On Thursday (Nov. 1) and (Nov. 2), with power outages still crippling lower Manhattan and many parts of Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut, we failed in most of our own attempts to speak with printers caught in the disaster and its aftermath. But, a few calls did go through, and what we heard from these sources was encouraging.

“We are turning cylinders, and we are printing,” said Tom Saggiomo, CEO of DG3 (Jersey City, NJ). The plant closed at noon on Monday, a few hours prior to a power loss that persisted until Thursday evening. No flooding or other storm damage was sustained, according to Saggiomo, who said that now, “our main priority is to get dated material out the door.” Saggiomo called in his second shift on Friday in anticipation of being back in full production by the end of the day.

On Long Island, Disc Graphics (Hauppauge, NY) shut down Monday morning in what John Rebecchi said was an “organized fashion” to ride out the worst of the storm. Rebecchi, senior vice president of the packaging firm, said that the company had previously organized a “response group” of sales personnel and CSRs to stay in touch with customers and reassure them about their work in progress. 

Disc Graphics has an affiliated plant in the Midwest, and thanks to this facility, said Rebecchi, some customers have experienced “zero interruptions” in the production of their work. Those for whom production has been delayed have been “highly understanding,” Rebecchi said.

The lights came back on in Hauppauge on Thursday afternoon, revealing no storm damage and enabling Disc Graphics to resume deliveries from the home plant. As of Friday, Disc Graphics was open for business and fully operational, but Rebecchi said the situation still has a way to go before routines will be entirely back to normal.

For one thing, phone and e-mail malfunctions outside the plant are making some customers difficult to reach. Many of the Long Island-based trade shops that Disc Graphics relies upon for finishing and other services were knocked out by Sandy and remain down, Rebecchi said.

The biggest immediate challenge, however, is employee logistics. About 250 people work for Disc Graphics, many of them still without power at home and all of them facing a gasoline shortage that has brought commuting on car-dependent Long Island to the edge of a standstill. The company is helping its staff to cope by organizing carpools and by providing catered meals at the plant. It also is reaching out to community groups in its employees’ residential areas, offering what assistance it can.

“Right now, it’s all about a community effort,” Rebecchi said.

Mike Graff credits a contingency communications plan, a backup generator, and the “unbelievable” response of his employees with getting Sandy Alexander back to nearly full production soon after the departure of a storm that literally had the name on the Clifton, NJ, commercial printing firm on its back.

The electricity went out on Monday afternoon, but Sandy inflicted no significant damage on buildings or equipment as it roared through, Graff said. On Friday, the company still was waiting for the return of utility power, but a rented generator was supplying about 70% of what the plant normally draws—enough, said Graff, to get his four sheetfed presses and one of two “power hungry” webs back on line. Sandy Alexander has a web plant in Florida that can fill in the gap in the meantime. The company’s digital and outdoor divisions also were back in operation, Graff reported.

He had nothing but praise for his staff of 125, many of whom made their way to the plant, ready for work, while it was still plunged in darkness. But Graff noted that these steadfast employees, like their counterparts at other firms throughout the metro region, would face serious commuting challenges until normal supplies of gasoline became available.

In the industrial section of Queens known as Long Island City, David Spiel is hopeful that as power returns to Manhattan and elsewhere, his customers will come to Spiel Associates on Nov. 7 and 8 for an open house that will reprise the dealership’s showing of graphic finishing equipment at Graph Expo 2012. Spiel said that although he closed the plant on Monday, he never lost power and was able to reopen with limited communications (now fully restored) the following day.

More tales of recovery like these will emerge as metro area printers regroup in the wake of the worst natural disaster that most of them have ever experienced in their own backyards. We will continue to follow the recovery and can be contacted via email by any firm in the region with a story to share.

Source: Metro Graphics Reporter