For any companies still on the fence trying to decide whether to move operations back to New Orleans after fleeing Hurricane Katrina, Frank Glaviano Sr., vice-president of the Americas at Shell, has some practical advice:
“Until you make a decision, your energy is spent on considering the pros and cons and not solving the problems,” Glaviano said. “You have to face up to it, make the decision and act on it.”
It worked for Shell.
And Shell’s commitment to New Orleans is just one example -- others are there, too -- of how the oil industry is stepping up to help the city and region recover from last year’s disastrous hurricanes.
Usually, the efforts are without much fanfare. The public praise likely will come later.
“Given the situation, it was obvious if we were going to leave (New Orleans) this would be the time,” Glaviano noted. “We made a conscious choice to return after discussing the pros and cons. We announced we were returning November 7, and the first 250 people moved back January 30.”
The exploration unit from New Orleans remained in Houston, which was a pre- Katrina decision. All 1,000 remaining employees originally based in the Crescent City have returned. They’re once again ensconced in the towering Shell building downtown, which escaped Katrina’s wrath.
“The building would have accommodated the relocation before January,” Glaviano said. “We wanted to give time to the city to establish basic services, such as enough hospital beds, 911 service, postal service, communications. Today, it’s a busy workday downtown, although there are still signs of damage.
“We thought the single best thing we could do for New Orleans was to bring 1,000 high paying jobs back to the city,” Glaviano said. “We ran an ad in the local paper upon moving back that included the statement ‘A community needs a commitment, and New Orleans has ours’ -- that’s how we summed it up to the people and the city.”
Shell employees lived throughout the city and surrounding areas, so many of them lost homes or had severely damaged dwellings.
The company quickly stepped up to the plate and spent $32 million to purchase 120 units -- single family and apartment complexes -- in New Orleans and toward Baton Rouge to lease to homeless employees at cost. Today, most all employees are in stable situations, either permanent or temporary.
Building Toward Tomorrow
Unlike Shell, Dominion Exploration & Production is unable to return staff to its downtown domicile following a six-month stay in Houston. The Dominion Tower suffered extensive storm damage, and the company relocated to a nearby building. The first 60 employees who are scheduled to return arrived early in March.
“People are going back on a staggered schedule, based on individual needs and individual housing needs,” said David Auchter, Dominion spokesman. “The company is assisting with their need.”
About 200 employees will be back by mid-April. Auchter said the number will rise during the summer to include new-hires because Dominion is actively recruiting geologists and geophysicists.
Chevron has relocated 700 employees back to its downtown New Orleans building, which suffered some flooding and window damage. Although readied for occupancy, some repair work continues.
To ensure the safety of its people in the still-struggling city, the company keeps a paramedic and an ambulance on site. In fact, the paramedic performs daily checks of several emergency rooms within driving distance to determine who has the most available beds and most accommodating response time in the event of an emergency.
Besides providing temporary housing for some of it still-homeless employees, Chevron is among the companies who have made significant additional monetary contributions to assist those impacted by the storms.
“Up to this time, we have given $5.5 million to non-profit and government agencies in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas,” said Matt Carmichael, public affairs representative. “In Louisiana, we gave more than $1.2 million to several groups.” These included United Way and Project Rebuild Plaquemines Parish.
Prior to Katrina, Chevron made a $1 million donation to the Orleans Parish school system, which has now been re-directed to assist in rebuilding schools. Dominion is also actively involved in revamping the educational system in the city. The company is facilitating individual grants via the Dominion Foundation grants and is making other grants directly.
Chevron also pre-paid $2.5 million in property taxes in hurricane-affected areas where it operates: Orleans, Plaquemines, Vermilion and Cameron parishes.
“These municipalities ran out of money after the storm,” Carmichael said. “On January 1, there was money in the bank they could immediately start to spend.”
Recognizing that less tangible cultural issues also play a key role in restoring life to the city, Dominion is continuing its longtime support of such organizations as the Audubon Nature Institute and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, among others. This support will assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of the arts in South Louisiana.
The myriad fans of the acclaimed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be happy to hear the festival will celebrate its thirty-seventh season this spring, thanks to Shell, which came on board as the first-ever presenting sponsor when the event’s fate was in doubt for this year. The festival generates $250 million worth of economic activity for the area, which will significantly pump up the near-empty city coffers.
It’s not just the big folks who are stepping up to help out in the aftermath of the disastrous hurricanes. Many smaller, independent companies are making a difference through the Louisiana Independent Oil & Gas Association (LIOGA).
The organization established two separate funds to assist victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Some of the money has been used to enable a number of families to successively occupy a fully furnished apartment in Lafayette provided by LIOGA. Funds also have been provided for displaced children from New Orleans, in addition to numerous other LIOGA efforts.
The LIOGA Katrina Industry Relief Fund has a balance of approximately $600,000 and is the larger of the two funds. The Community Foundation of Acadiana oversees the fund, which will have a sizeable impact on the community where the funds are ultimately directed.
Midst the continuing hardship in this part of the world, the occasional light note is essential to help lift spirits and keep the morale intact.
With that in mind, Auchter noted at press time Dominion was planning a celebration in April, welcoming all its employees back with -- you guessed it -- a crawfish boil, the gustatory affair synonymous with south Louisiana.