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Businesses that can produce during storm add to region’s reputation for resilience

Jiffy-Tite’s Lancaster factory took the full brunt of this week’s winter storm, but while the auto parts maker was snowed in, it kept working.

Employees stuck at the plant worked 16-hour days, filling high-priority customer orders. Executives on snowmobiles delivered pizza to the trapped crew.

And when the snow finally stopped and workers could begin to venture out, two executives packed a crucial order onto a snowmobile trailer and delivered it to a company in Lockport.

Other parts, for out-of-town customers, were dropped off at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, so they could be flown out.

All that made Jiffy-Tite’s president, Michael Rayhill, understandably proud.

“Resolve of the Western New York workforce and the support of the community made this possible,” Rayhill said Thursday. “This is just another reason why Jiffy-Tite is proud to call Western New York home.”

That fortitude is the message economic development officials hope gets out, because with the national media covering the November snow minute by minute, Buffalo’s image as a Snow Belt survivor is being renewed for a new generation.

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said the national attention from the storm cuts both ways.

“It’s negative in that it reinforces the national stereotype of Buffalo as a snow tundra,” she said. “However, the stories of resiliency, community cooperation and the ‘We’re all in this together,’ send a very positive message for economic development in that we have quality people and a quality workforce that doesn’t give up.”

“It’s a blip, not a permanent setback,” she said.

The storm comes at a time when the region is beginning to get national attention for positive economic development, such as SolarCity’s plan for a massive solar panel factory in South Buffalo and the 43North business plans contest that drew entries from 96 countries and all 50 states.

“It doesn’t derail us,” said Howard Zemsky, co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

“Those of us who live here know that our snowstorms are generally matters of inconvenience, for the most part, and that by and large, there is minimal loss of property and life during these events,” he said. “But it’s not unreasonable to point out that, relative to hurricanes and tornadoes, which affect many parts of our country and state even, that our snowstorms are mild with respect to the toll on property and life.”

With portions of the Buffalo Niagara region still getting blasted on Thursday by lake-effect snow, the local impact is hard to quantify.

“We don’t know yet,” said George Palumbo, a Canisius College economist.

In the hard-hit areas, stores are shut down, workers can’t get to their jobs. And companies in those areas can’t ship their products.

Economists and local business officials said the storm’s impact will play out in many ways, some short-term, and others for weeks and months to come.

“There’s more than one story to tell,” said Jay K. Walker, a Niagara University economist.

For consumers – and local retailers – the impact is likely to be minimal. Other than Canadian shoppers planning a special trip to local malls, snowbound consumers who couldn’t get to the store over the past few days are likely to make those purchases once the weather clears.

“Today’s lost sales should show up tomorrow,” Walker said.

But the storm also affects workers stranded at home. Many, thanks to the Internet and improved computer networks, have been able to work from home, allowing them to continue to collect paychecks while keeping local businesses operating as best they can.

“The first part of the story is that nobody’s seen snow like this,” Palumbo said. “The second part of the story, we can hope, is that nobody’s seen a cleanup like this.”

For Jiffy-Tite’s workers at the plant, the snowstorm will be an economic boost. They’ll collect plenty of overtime from the 16-hour day Tuesday.

As the weather clears, and work gets back to normal, companies like Jiffy-Tite that had to close or reduce operations are likely to step up production to try to catch up for the lost time. If workers pick up extra hours during the catch-up, that will reduce the negative impact from any lost wages, Walker said.

The other economic factor will be the cost of cleaning up all the snow and repairing any damages, such as the collapsed roof at the BJ’s Wholesale Club in Hamburg.

“It may be good for some businesses, like construction firms, towing companies and plowing services.” Walker said. “But this spending only serves to make consumers or municipalities less well-off than they were before the storm.”

Money a consumer planned to spend to buy a new coat now will be spent to hire a contractor to plow their driveway, Walker said. So instead of having a new coat and clear driveway, the consumer now has just a clear driveway and no new coat, he said.

And that new coat could come in handy. Because, as Zemsky points out, “Let’s face it, we never lost our reputation for snow.”