Hurricane Sandy is providing a boost to construction-related firms, many still reeling from the economic downturn.
More often than not, owners have had to wait for insurance checks to start rebuilding. But companies already have started working because peak season for the Jersey Shore is just months away.
"Soon as the uncertainty stops and checks are issued, we'll have a lot of work from a lot of people," said Todd Miller, owner of QMA Design+Build of Ventnor City, N.J.
When Mark 1 Restoration Service trucks park on Long Beach Island, people wait in line for a technician's ear.
"Work will go on for a long time," said Mark Schultz, owner of the Riverside, N.J., company that has done a lot of work to salvage houses on the 18-mile-long island that begins about 30 miles northeast of Atlantic City, N.J.
Chris Heins, vice president of Heritage Construction Enterprises in Ship Bottom, N.J., has been working 80 hours a week.
He has more than 800 proposals on his desk, 20 times more than a year ago. He employs almost 50 workers, compared to a previous high of 15 in 2012 and said he has not faced a worker shortage.
When Dr. David Zalut decided to live full time in Margate City, N.J., last year, he concluded that his shore house wouldn't work as a year-round dwelling. So he tore it down before Superstorm Sandy.
His timing was good. He had his construction firm, his plans and his permits before the storm hit. And he didn't have to rip out any work to meet post-Sandy regulations.
"We were lucky," Zalut said.
But he did face a bogged-down approval process, as homeowners inundated the city with applications for repairs and reconstruction, including raising houses out of harm's way.
The same scenario has played out along much of New Jersey's coast in wake of the Oct. 29 storm. Some houses suffered irreparable damage and required demolition. Others had to be gutted or their water-damaged first floors had to be rebuilt.
"So many homes need help," said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce. Contractors are ripping out floors and drywall at both homes and businesses throughout the resort area.
A number of construction companies shuttered in the slowdown have returned, said Richard Perniciaro, an economic researcher at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, N.J.
Steve Hauck, owner of SJ Hauck House Movers, already has doubled his workforce, all with local employees. The 25-year-old company based in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., has been doing work most recently in Brigantine, N.J., just north of Atlantic City.
Hauck said he may have to bring in people from elsewhere, especially to deal with house raising.
"Only a handful of companies in New Jersey do this kind of work," he said.
In addition to insurance-check delays, some property owners are awaiting new building regulations, Perniciaro said.
"You can't have the feds say the house has to be raised this high and the local government say you can't go this high," Heins said.
Will the South Jersey Shore be made whole by summer?
Gillian of the chamber of commerce expects both rental properties and commercial shops damaged in the hurricane to be ready.
"A few commercial businesses won't come back," Perniciaro said. "Some properties won't be rentable again. But those scenarios are much smaller down here than to the north. I think it will look the same as last summer."
Everything on Long Beach Island should be back to normal, said Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.
"We're excited," she said. "We have the wedding road show in April, the beach opening and a wine festival in May."
Still, Sandy left a path of destruction that's hard to forget.
"It's very sad to see so many houses that need work, even those that were elevated already," said Patricia Jensen, a retiree from Philadelphia who bought a home in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township eight years ago and moved there full time 18 months ago.
She had to tear down her house and rebuild from scratch. Yet the thought of bailing on the island never entered her mind.
"I don't think about it because it's so nice being down here," she said.