Craig Ceccanti is no stranger to hurricanes.
The co-founder and CEO of Pinot's Palette, an art school franchise based in Houston, fled his native Louisiana in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. Now he is watching as swollen rivers and torrential rain once again displace thousands from their homes, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
"Katrina was a big part of our founding story," Ceccanti tells Inc. by phone, noting similarities in the levels of flood damage he's seen so far. "As a small business, it's very easy to close your door," he adds. "It's hard to rally employees and say, 'We have to get to work, because people need us.'" The entrepreneur, a father of 2-year-old twins, spent his weekend helping neighbors rescue pets from their flooded homes. In the coming weeks, he expects his company to donate money and other resources to victims via its not-for-profit arm, Painting it Forward.
Ceccanti is among the hundreds of thousands of Texans reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in the state as a Category 4 storm late Friday. At least 10 people have been killed so far and many more injured as heavy rains continue to pummel the state--with some areas expecting to see more than 50 inches before it's over.
"The word catastrophic does not appropriately describe what we're facing," U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, told CNN. "We just don't know when it's going to end." As of Monday afternoon, federal officials say the storm will drive some 30,000 people from their homes, and as many as 450,000 victims to seek some form of disaster relief. Houston, in particular, is feeling the effects of being submerged.
For executives in the area, the first order of business is rescuing employees. Lance Loken, who heads up the Houston-based real estate firm The Loken Group, drove his pickup truck out to some of the flooded areas of the city on Sunday to assist three agents whose families were stranded. (In one instance, a small child was suffering from a chronic illness, so Loken took the child directly to the emergency room.) He says an additional seven workers were forced to flee their houses, however they managed to get immediate assistance from friends and family. "It's utter devastation," he says, adding that he's anxious as the city opens up two reservoirs, which will cause even more flooding. "There's no choice, so the engineers are telling everybody to be ready," he says.
Meanwhile, the Houston-based digital agency Poetic Systems gave several of its employees time off to deal with damage to their homes, as well as illnesses sustained over the weekend. The startup's offices are located in a prominent business district, the Galleria, which is now inaccessible due to flooding, founder Matthew Hager tells Inc. His 25-person team will work remotely for the next week, and he anticipates hosting some staffers in his own house.
Beyond their own employees, many business leaders are making an effort to give back to their community. The Loken Group, for instance, has successfully raised more than $10,000 through its affiliated charity, TLG Gives, and is working with the larger brokerage Keller Williams to move equipment and supplies to warehouses. The Houston furniture manufacturer Gallery Furniture, meanwhile, opened its entire mattress showroom to those in need of protection (and bed rest) from the floodwaters off the I-45 North highway. The national lodging service Airbnb is waiving all service fees for those affected, as well as those checking in between August 23rd and September 1st.
Expecting the worst.
Of course, for many, the financial ramifications of Hurricane Harvey are still unknown. Hager of Poetic Systems anticipates losing some contracts in the weeks to come, even as his own staff is operating without several key members. The good news, he says, is that the company has savings: "We've got a rainy day fund, and we're now going to use it for one hell of a rainy day."
Others suspect their bottom lines will suffer in the long-term. "In the back of our minds, we're worried about when our office will be operational again," Jake Donaldson, a principal with the Houston design firm Method Architecture, tells Inc. via email. "We still have to cover overhead and payroll, even though we've paused operations and expect delays in incoming payments. We hope our vendors and suppliers will be as flexible as we have to be with our clients."
Even as the tragedy continues--and against all odds--Texans are still able to see the silver lining. Ceccanti, the Pinot's Palette founder, says his business wouldn't exist if it weren't for Hurricane Katrina: "I wouldn't have moved to Houston," he says. That's where he met his co-founders, Charles and Beth Willis, and the three came up with the idea for the company.
"You have to look on the bright side," Ceccanti adds, preparing to venture once again into the storm. "Necessity is the mother of invention."