Storms have $40 million local impact

The severe winter storms that froze Baton Rouge and iced over interstate highways and city streets may have had caused a $40 million blow to the local economy.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber said the impact is based on lost income, wages, sales, spending and production. BRAC estimated the impact based on a survey of 70 regional businesses.

Local governments in the Baton Rouge metro area spent an additional $500,000 a day — on overtime for public safety and public works employees, equipment costs and additional services.

Retailers and small businesses, who closed their stores because customers and employees couldn’t get there, suffered the biggest impact, said Adam Knapp, BRAC president and CEO.

The major chemical plants that are one of the pillars of the local economy remained open and saw few, if any decreases in production.

“The encouragement we offer folks who want to help out is to patronize those small businesses once things come back to life,” Knapp said. “Go out to eat at those restaurants.”

While most Baton Rouge retailers were open Wednesday, business was slow because icy roads kept many customers away.

“There are not too many ways to get to us because the overpass on Scenic Highway is iced up,” said Jonathan Haynes, an employee at the Sam’s Club near Cortana Mall. As of mid-Wednesday morning, only about five customers had come to the discount retailer, Haynes said.

Baton Rouge grocery stores got hit hard Monday evening as customers stocked up on staples for fear that the winter storm would lead to widespread power outages and keep them trapped in their homes for several days.

But at Matherne’s Supermarket on Bluebonnet Boulevard, Pat Jones, a customer service manager, said the store shelves were once again fully stocked.

“We got a truck in today,” Jones said.

Jones said while all of the employees at Matherne’s were able to make it in for work Wednesday, customer traffic was lighter than usual.

“We’ve had a steady flow of people, but not a lot of people,” she said. “Maybe people will come in as it warms up.”

The 10 Winn-Dixie stores in metro Baton Rouge were all open Wednesday after some stores closed as early as 4 p.m. Tuesday so employees and shoppers wouldn’t get caught in the freezing precipitation.

“Monday, those stores were pretty busy with people getting last-minute stuff,” said LaDana Williams, a spokeswoman for Winn-Dixie’s New Orleans region, which includes grocery stores in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.

The winter storm did lead to some increased business at area hotels, as travelers and truckers looked for a place to bed down for the night. Overall occupancy rates for Friday were 40 percent higher than they were on Jan. 24, 2013, said Renee Areng, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Visit Baton Rouge, the local convention and visitors bureau. Areng said the higher numbers were caused by people staying in Baton Rouge because they were trapped by the icy roads.

Areng said the numbers are impressive because Jan. 24, 2013, was on a Thursday, which is usually a good day for local hotels because of business travelers.

Francis Grayson, general manager of the Hotel Indigo downtown, said this week’s ice storm was financially painful.

“We’ve lost a lot of rooms this week because of this storm,” he said.

Last week’s freeze did not hurt the Indigo’s business because more people arrived before the streets iced over, and they stayed longer, making up for any canceled reservations, Grayson said.

“It was kind of a push, actually,” he said.

Advocate Business writer Bill Lodge contributed to this report.