ROUGH RIDE: Storm damage to Hardy Bottling Co. in Hickory Hill included the old showboat façade from its days as the Schlitz and Stroh's Belle. Inside, the plant's manufacturing infrastructure has been heavily damaged and the future of the plant is on the line. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy
The power is back on in Hickory Hill. More than 200 people applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency office on its first full day of operation at the Hickory Hill Community Center. And some homeowners already have received their checks to begin repair work on homes, according to the FEMA spokesman in Memphis.
But parts of Hickory Hill that are a vital piece of the city's economic engine are facing a longer recovery from the Feb. 5 tornadoes.
"There is much more misery coming out of that area that we have yet to see," said Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
"We're also going to survey all of the businesses in that area. Hickory Hill is already strained economically. And it's going to be very difficult for Hickory Hill to bear up under this downturn. You have to see it to believe it."
For the locally owned bottling company that bought the old Coors brewery on East Raines Road two years ago, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Carolyn Hardy, a vice president at the property when it was with Coors, is the lead investor in Chism Hardy Enterprises LLC and finds herself in the position of having an office but no plant.
"We've got holes in our roof. Our facility, half the roof is gone," she said.
"We can't manufacture, so we're just trying to get the customer stuff out that's not damaged shipped back to them or another warehouse, so that we don't damage it any further. Every time it rains, it gets worse for us. ... So, the weather's not working with us right now."
Time running short
Wharton said the plant is a symbol of efforts to revive the fortunes of Hickory Hill.
"This was going to be our poster child for how the community can come together and support our locally owned small businesses and minorities ... up through the ranks and up through the industry," he said. "And just as she's getting ready to take off, this hits. When I say hit, I mean it is really severe."
Wharton and Hardy are working with the Memphis Regional Chamber to locate an empty food-processing plant or some other location with similar facilities that can be leased in time for the critical month of March.
"So far nothing's panned out. That's the problem. We're working at the speed of light, trying to identify our options," Hardy said. "No work at all is being done on the building right now. The only thing we're doing is trying to clean the debris up, so that no one gets hurt."
If another location is found, there is the matter of moving very large equipment with very large cranes. All of it can be done over time. But Wharton said the bottling plant doesn't have a lot of time.
"She's coming up on her most productive months beginning in March. In the industry she's in, if you don't have it on the shelf it's not any good," he said. "If she doesn't make it in March, she doesn't make it."
So far, Wharton is not asking for local government help for Hardy Bottling. But he was quick to add that there are local tax breaks at stake.
"There were (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) granted and all," Wharton said. "She will not be able to meet the terms of that if she's not in operation. So indirectly it is definitely a government interest."
The news has been better at Sharp Manufacturing, another plant damaged in the storm. Executives at the Memphis television plant told Wharton and other
civic leaders recently that 200 or more employees at its plant will be back at work this week.
Meanwhile, Don Daniels, spokesman for the FEMA operation at the Hickory Hill Community Center, said some homeowners already have had disaster assistance checks cut and issued.
"Most of them, it's just primarily home damage in some way, shape, form or fashion," Daniels said. "There's such a diverse type of damage. They need to come here and get into the pipeline."
FEMA can reimburse the city for local sanitation crews who probably will be working extra hours to pick up storm debris left curbside.
'It's a resident's obligation to get it to the curb unless they give permission to the city or county to come on and bring it to the curb. That is a local issue," Daniels said.
"FEMA does reimburse local governments for debris pick up or removal. ... That figure is normally about 75 percent."
There are three ways to apply: show up at the FEMA center at Hickory Hill Community Center, call 1-800-621-3362 or apply on the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov.