The largest employers in Bay County are showing that Hurricane Michael can’t run them out of town. But housing will play a key role in keeping businesses—and their employees—afloat.Becca Hardin, president of the Bay Economic Development Alliance, said while it’s too early to tell how much of the county’s workforce was lost, major employers are laser-focused on getting their operations running and employees back to work. “No one we’ve talked to said they’re closing up shop,” Hardin said. “It’s a very positive sign.” Brian D’Isernia, who owns Bay County’s sixth-largest employer Eastern Shipbuilding Group, said 80 percent of his employees have returned to work. For the employees who have had damaged houses, D’Isernia said he has purchased 20 mobile home trailers and let others take time to make the repairs. “We’re proud of our people and their resilience to this natural disaster,” he said. Other employers are slowly starting to gain steam. Berg Steel Pipe has one shift in operation, Port Panama City is back in business and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is handling flights again. But rebuilding businesses isn’t the only task at hand, as Michael’s wrath in the path of affordable housing likely could make people move for good. “I’m sure we’ve lost some of our workforce,” said Kim Bodine, executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast. Bodine said CareerSource Gulf Coast is planning to hold a job fair next week to help match employers with people ready to work. She added that it’s “vital to the community” that employers have remained in the county. The homes of almost one-third of Gulf Coast State College’s employees, another large county employer, had some sort of damage to their homes, said President John Holdnak. He’s one of them. Holdnak is only certain of one employee who lost everything and skipped town, saying they were there for a short time and didn’t have any ties to the community. “For most people out here, this is a calling. This is what they love to do,” he said, confident that most of the employees will stay. It’s a dicey situation for schools because they have to look out for the needs of both faculty and their students. If some students feel the post-hurricane burden is too great and as a result must stop taking classes, Holdnak said that can lead to brain drain and an uneven student-teacher ratio, which in turn affects employment. “The rest of the world goes on and we’re in a little bubble of ‘uh oh,’ ” he said. One thing he can offer is loyalty. Holdnak said he tries to translate this to his students and faculty by providing to them what they need, such as food and laundry services. Faculty continued to get paid even though school was not in session for almost a month. The campus will reopen Monday. In doing this, Holdnak said by taking care of his own, he hopes it will take some pressure off local, state and federal entities that otherwise would have been taking care of these needs. All he can do in the meantime is remain positive, saying, “I think the community is done crying.” “Things will get back to normal. Things will not get back to the way they were,” he said.
By Hannah Morse, Gatehouse Media Florida