After devastating fire, Carter Lake furniture maker reopens in new location

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Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Sat Sep 27, 2014.

General Manufacturing is back in business following a January fire that resulted in a complete loss for the Carter Lake-based manufacturer of restaurant furniture.

Owner Mark Fischer said the Jan. 18 fire destroyed the company's inventory and its stockpile of lumber and hardware, halting operations for about six weeks. The company has resumed operations in a 14,000-square-foot space at North 9th Street and Abbott Drive in Omaha.

It's a temporary fix, Fischer said, but the company has brought back all of its previous full-time employees and is running at an estimated 80 percent capacity.

“We would rather be in a larger space, but it's what was available and it's what we needed to be able to sustain our business,” Fischer said.

General Manufacturing has been in business for 50 years and employs 12 to 15 people, including temporary hires for seasonal increases in demand. Temporary workers have not been rehired.

Reopening after a disaster is no small feat. Research from federal and private disaster recovery organizations has found that 25 percent to 40 percent of businesses fail to reopen after a disaster like a fire or a flood because of lack of preparation and high costs.

“I've seen some estimates that are so high they're really scary,” said Bob Boyd, president and CEO at Charlotte, N.C.-based Agility Recovery, which provides business continuity planning and disaster-mitigation services.

Despite reopening in a new space, Fischer's business isn't out of the woods yet. Boyd said his experience has shown that 25 percent to 30 percent of businesses that reopen after a disaster later shut their doors permanently. “There's a big group that will fail because they weren't ready for (a disaster) and another big group that will fail down the road simply because it's hard to start a business,” he said.

One reason for that is that customers can tolerate only a limited interruption.

“As forgiving and compassionate as they are, they have to get whatever service or good they're buying from you,” Boyd said.

Fischer said that about 90 percent of his customers have been understanding and that he expects to keep doing business with them.

And now that the company's operations have resumed, Fischer has to make a new decision about whether to rebuild on top of the company's former home in Carter Lake — Fischer's original plan — or to find a new space in Nebraska's tax jurisdiction.

General Manufacturing hadn't been reassessed for Iowa taxes since 1985, Fischer said. He recently discovered that commercial property taxes are about 85 percent lower in Nebraska's tax jurisdiction.

“We're working with the mayor (of Carter Lake), Advance Southwest Iowa and other groups to find what incentives and tax abatements could make up the difference,” Fischer said. “At the end of the day, it's a difficult choice.”

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