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Spokane

Economic impact of windstorm uncertain

Brian Wilson, left, and Roy Jacks stock the frozen food cases Thursday at Fred Meyer on Thor Street in Spokane. The impact of the windstorm on the area’s economy has yet to be seen. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Brian Wilson, left, and Roy Jacks stock the frozen food cases Thursday at Fred Meyer on Thor Street in Spokane. The impact of the windstorm on the area’s economy has yet to be seen. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The windstorm has been a short-term boon for roofing companies and some hotels, but the gains may not last.

Avista Chief Economist Grant Forsyth said that while hotels with power are full of people who have no power at home, hotels that don’t have electricity are losing money, creating both winners and losers. “Really it’s more like a redistribution of economic benefit, not a net gain,” Forsyth said.

The same goes for grocery stores. But Rosauers CEO Jeff Philipps said that while stores that are open are busy, people are not doing their normal shopping.

“They’re busy with small orders or things people can use and consume right away,” he said. “People can’t cook. Our deli business has been landmark.”

There has been a run on items such as bagged ice, batteries and flashlights. But Philipps said his stores have been restocking most of the in-demand items from the warehouse and once that inventory is gone, it’s gone. The demand will probably be gone by the time the warehouses could restock.

Having power restored to most homes and stores by Sunday is key, Philipps said. The weekend before Thanksgiving is typically a big grocery shopping weekend and many people shop on Sunday.

Philipps said he won’t know if his stores will have a net gain or loss until later. “The real story won’t be able to be told until after Thanksgiving week,” he said.

The phones are ringing off the hook at roofing and construction companies, but Forsyth said those industries were already doing well.

“A lot of builders don’t have a lot of slack to deal with the reconstruction,” he said. “For a lot of them, it’s not easy to just hire new people and increase capacity. In the short run, it’s going to be fairly problematic for the region.”

The windstorm comes after extreme fires this summer. “We finally get out of that and now we’ve got this,” Forsyth said. “For us it’s sort of a double whammy.”

Typically if the economy was good before a disaster it will recover more quickly, he said. The area is better off now than it was several years ago, but there could still be an impact on social services created by part-time workers with no benefits who are out of work because of power outages, Forsyth said.

Some economic consequences will take longer to be apparent. The damage could cause insurance companies to take a second look at the area, especially after the major windstorms that hit some areas in 2014.

“It will be interesting to see what happens to regional insurance rates,” he said. “When you have these kinds of events, it’s not unusual for insurance companies to reassess the risk profile of a region.”

The jury will be out for a while about whether the economy will be boosted or drained by the windstorm. “A lot of the research shows it’s mostly negative in the short run,” Forsyth said. “It could be positive in the long run based on reconstruction. It remains to be seen.”



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