Hurricane Katrina spared Vince Gremillion and his company, Restech Information Services, but its after effects are still being felt a year later.
While Gremillion, president of the New Orleans-based solution provider, didn't lose his house or office, he has lost valuable members of his staff and has not been able to replace them. "The big story across the board is the workforce. It's tough. Trying to keep a skilled, professional workforce is tough," he said.
Katrina of course forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Many of them left for good. Many still don't have liveable houses. Many others returned to New Orleans in the last six months, only to decide it wasn't worth the trouble to stay and left again, he said.
It all adds up to an untenable environment to build a business, Gremillion said.
"[People] are getting calls to Austin, Houston, Dallas [and] other wonderful cities. They were great cities before the storm. They look even better after the storm," he said. "It's already tough to hire good people. But people who have lived here all their lives are leaving and getting someone to move here from out of town is even tougher."
It should be easier to recruit professionals to New Orleans, he said. After all, the city has a clean slate. Everything has to be rebuilt.
"You look at it one way, it's an opportunity for some of the best engineers and architects in the world. You want to do something new? Come here and you can do it on a grand scale. The money is here. The audience is here," he said.
Outside the business, Gremillion hasn't spent much time thinking about the one-year anniversary of Katrina. "You almost don't have time to think because there's so much going on with work and daily life," he said.
Like other New Orleans solution providers, Restech has seen a dramatic increase in disaster recovery projects. He said he started focusing in that area after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"No one wants to do it. It's like planning a will. But it's an eventuality that has to be faced. You have to take the time to do that. Of all the buildings in the world you thought would be secure, it would be the World Trade Center," Gremillion said. "Now it's felt across the country. It could be floods in the Northwest, fires and earthquakes out West, you name it."
Restech tells customers to plan as if they can't get into their building.
"You have to think what if my city is inaccessible. Everybody relies on the Internet, what if the Internet was at a standstill? Can you work with paper? Cell phones [after Katrina] were horrific all the way through Houston because of the ripple of people moving and overtaxing phone lines. You have to think of geographic diversity," Gremillion said.
Server virtualization is a strong solution that Restech now offers, he said.
"VMWare has been fantastic for us in that regard. I have my whole server on a USB drive. How wonderful is that? That can be around the world. It's also a perfect managed service opportunity," he said.
CRN coverage of the Katrina disaster:
> One Year Later: Even Fast Food Can Make VAR's Day In New Orleans (August 29, 2006)
> Katrina One Year Later: New Orleans VAR Looks Forward (August 29, 2006)
> VentureTech Members Recount Hurricane Katrina Experience (April 7, 2006)
> Masters Of Disaster (Feb. 24, 2006)
> No Easy Street (Oct. 21, 2005)
> Hurricane Katrina's Impact Ranges Far And Wide (Sept. 9, 2005)
> Solution Provider Sees Katrina Damage Firsthand (Aug. 30, 2005)