By Ron Leir
A South Kearny business sent reeling by super-storm Sandy has rebounded quite well, thanks, in part, to a little help from the state.
Custom Steel Contractors, one of several tenants at the Kearny Point Industrial Park, on the Hackensack River Peninsula, saw much of its machinery, including computer-controlled equipment and six trucks, wrecked by five feet of storm surge in late October 2012.
“A very specialized drilling machine critical to our operations was destroyed,” said Daniel Moran, president of Custom Steel, which has served a variety of corporate clients including NJ Transit, UMDNJ, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Schering Plough, the Newark Renaissance Building, along with local government and business organizations since 1986.
Essentially, Moran said, the storm “immediately halted our operations. We couldn’t do anything for a month. It took us three months to get back into operation. And we’re still recovering.”
And, Moran pointed out, his company wasn’t alone in the losses it experienced. “The whole Peninsula was destroyed.” Fedway, for example, was among the private sector facilities that took big hits and, among the public sector casualties, were the Hudson County Jail and the county’s Juneau Memorial Building. EDA’s Stronger NJ Business Grant of $50,000 for uninsured losses – awarded the South Kearny firm in November 2013 – “has helped us cover part of the cost of rebuilding our equipment [metal punching and shearing machines] and we’re now on track toward having one of our best years yet,” Moran said.
“We may not have made it back without [the EDA funding],” he added. For a while, he said, “we didn’t have money for payroll.” At the time, the company had about eight employees.
But since the Sandy shock, Moran said, “we got everyone back, we picked up a lot of new work and now we’re up to about 20 workers.”
Moran’s company has been based in Kearny since 2000, making itself “a little bit of a success story,” the owner said.
EDA CEO Michele Brown, who, along with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), visited the company last Thursday, said: “It’s exciting to see Sandy-impacted businesses like Custom Steel successfully recovering from the storm and in this case – coming back even stronger than before.”
Since the Stronger NJ Business Grant program began in May 2013, EPA said it has distributed more than $48 million in grants and loans to about 430 businesses statewide. It’s funded through the state’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In The Observer’s coverage area, EDA has also awarded $50,000 grants (the maximum available under the Stronger NJ Business Grant program) to: Pizza Hut and JL Transportation, both in Kearny; Spanish Pavilion, LMC Tool and SOS Carfix, all in Harrison; Sample Marshall Laboratories in Lyndhurst; and Melray’s Furniture in North Arlington.
Meanwhile, there are signs of non-storm-related business development activity in other sections of Kearny:
• Vineland Construction Co. has received approvals from the N.J. Meadowlands Commission to prepare a 3.29-acre site at 220 Harrison Ave., across from Walmart, for development. Plans call for construction of a single-story, 14,400 square foot building that will accommodate six retail stores to be occupied by Verizon, Gamestop, Sally’s Beauty salon, Buy-Rite Liquor, GNC Health and an as yet unannounced tenant. A sewer lateral will tie into the KMUA collection system.
• On the east side of Pas saic Ave., demolition is nearly complete at the old Bat Factory site, except for the old smokestack, on the east side of Passaic Ave. The Queens, N.Y., property owner has submitted to the town a conceptual development plan for retail use. This summer, the town expects to see construction begin for a new BJs Club at the nearby mall.
• On the west side of Pas saic, demolition is progressing at the old Spartec/Franklin Burlington Plastics site. Property owner Ernie Schaub said: “We have no plans for redevelopment, but we believe that removal of the [vacant] building will help in preparing and marketing the property for eventual sale.”
• The empty Pathmark property, also on the west side of Passaic, may be getting a new tenant at some point. L.A. Fitness, a nationwide exercise facility chain, is exploring the possibility of opening a new facility at the Vornado-owned site, confirmed company representative Gina Calabrese- Orosz. Information about the property is being collected for the corporate office, she said. “It will take months before we get a final word,” she added.
• And the new owners of the Jeryl Industrial Park site off Rt. 7 are continuing to knock down the mostly vacant buildings at that sprawling site and develop a “state-ofthe- art” industrial park after environmental remediation is completed.