News / Americas

Haitian Company Struggles to Rebuild its Business After Earthquake

A damaged building in Port-au-Prince
A damaged building in Port-au-Prince
Mike O'Sullivan

Businesses in Haiti are struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake January 12.  Many workers have lost their jobs, and employers are trying to get their businesses up and running.  Mike O'Sullivan visited one large Haitian company, Acra Industries.  He reports that hundreds of workers at the company face weeks or months of lay-offs.

Like most Port-au-Prince businesses, Acra Industries was hit hard by the earthquake.  The industrial group manufactures metal sheeting for construction, paper and plastic bags, and plastic plumbing pipes.  It also imports sugar and rice, among other activities.

Some of its buildings were destroyed and others suffered structural damage in the earthquake.  

Marc-Antoine Acra is a member of the family that operates the company and its four factories.  He says rebuilding plans are taking shape, but employees are afraid to enter concrete buildings, like those that collapsed in the earthquake.

 "So what we are looking at right now is to rebuild with prefab, have metallic structures and have roofing sheets," said Marc-Antoine Acra.

Six workers died outside the plant, and some lost family members, but no one was killed inside the factory compound.

Many workers who lost their houses are living on company property with their families.  Some neighboring families are also staying here.

They are receiving medical care and food from international aid groups.

The company is again importing sugar and rice, but Acra says the local port is only partly functioning and that cash flow for the business has slowed to a trickle.

"You have a lot of customers that lost their business, their stocks, their homes, their wife or kid, that also died," he said. "Now, how are you going to recoup that money that is in their hands today.  I do not think there is a possibility to get more than 30 percent of that money."

Acra escorts visitors through an abandoned factory makes corrugated metal sheets.  The assembly line is silent.  The building is structurally unsafe, and the business owner is careful to walk under supporting beams, in case of a collapse.

He hopes to get some parts of Acra Industries running in two weeks.   He says others will take several months to restart.  He hopes international aid organizations will work with local businesses in the rebuilding effort, and support local companies like his.

"A lot of us that are trying to get back on our feet, have some stock, depending on the sector, have food, have construction materials," said Marc-Antoine Acra.

The U.N. Development Program and many international aid groups say they buy locally whenever possible.

Marc-Antoine Acra says his company's workers were paid for January, but at least 250 are being laid off in February, and they must wait for weeks or months to get their jobs back.    

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