From water comes work
Recent flood lends surprise boon to local businesses

LILBURN - For Andy Foray, owner of Dacula-based Water Pro Inc., Gwinnett's recent flooding brought about a peculiar phenomenon in parched economic times: absolute inundation.

A flood recovery and structural drying specialist, Foray and his small crew were spread thin from Dacula to Alpharetta on the first day of heavy rains, at one point running out of equipment, he said. They worked well beyond the 12-hour mark, sleeping about four hours per night while tackling 15 jobs in the span of a week, he said.

"Everybody in construction - my flooring guys, my drywall guys - they're all super busy now," Foray said.

The torrential downpours and raging rivers of last week's historic flood have provided an unexpected economic stimulus for Gwinnett-based contractors. Call it the silver lining in an otherwise dismal state of affairs.

Officials estimate more than 150 homes and businesses were damaged, mostly in southern Gwinnett where thunderstorms parked for several hours. For contractors, that translates to plentiful work.

"I hate to say it, but this has been a shot in the arm to all repair and services guys," said Walter Cooper of Lilburn's longstanding Northlake Plumbing. "You don't want to think that, but it's true. As far as the money part goes, it's helped us."

Cooper said most of the 50 or 60 flood-related calls he's fielded since Sept. 18 involve damaged water heaters in basements and crawl-spaces. Other people call wanting rainwater pumps installed to battle future deluges, he said.

Calls for service kept pouring in Tuesday, though in some cases residents were running out of cash for repairs, Cooper said.

"People (are) still putting stuff back together," he said. "(But) we've been able to handle it."

Business owners report that flooding provided an economic spark for electricians, drywall contractors, deck builders, restoration specialists, water extractors and freelance carpet cleaners, to name a few.

But among the licensed, honest contractors lurk unscrupulous scam artists not qualified to tackle restoration jobs, warned Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

Flood damage requiring a contractor to hold a state-issued license includes major structural repair, electrical and plumbing, among other jobs.

But state law exempts other work - including roofing, painting, siding and mold remediation - from licensure, Handel said.

Handel warned consumers this week to be leery of the following red flags that signal dishonest contractors, including:

· Reluctance to put the deal in writing;

· Door-to-door offerings of service;

· High-pressure sales tactics to pay half the cost up-front;

· Lack of a permanent and verifiable business name, address and phone number.

James Cowart, owner of Cowart's Tree Removal in Lawrenceville, said flood victims who hire "fly-by-night" workers not only endanger themselves, they also break state law.

Cowart's seen business spike after nine years of relative drought caused excessive "root rot" in trees, making them susceptible to toppling over when soil became saturated with rain.

While a shady tree remover might clear a felled pine for less than $100, the peace of mind that comes with using a licensed, insured company is worth paying more, Cowart said.

His 12-person crew is handling about five tree-removal requests per day in the wake of flooding, which is an uptick in business but hardly a windfall, Cowart said.

"It could be a lot better," he said. "The economy's really making people not turn loose any money."

To verify that a contractor is properly licensed, or to file a complaint against a licensed contractor, visit the Secretary of State's Web site at: http://sos.georgia.gov/plb.