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First American Printing & Direct Mail ready for return

Ocean Springs — The impact of Hurricane Katrina continues to have a ripple effect on businesses. First American Printing & Direct Mail, a wholly-owned enterprise of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, recovered from its direct losses but is still feeling the pinch of having their customers’ businesses shut down.

First American’s own losses included the grief of losing an employee and of having 20% of its employees lose their homes. The building had minor damage, too, but the facility reopened September 6. Production operations in Baton Rouge and Choctaw, La., were up and running a week after the storm, and the Gulfport office lost four major pieces of equipment.

“We’re doing amazingly well,” said John McCollins, First American sales manager. “We set up a boutique in our warehouse to receive donated food, clothes and supplies that came from other employees, customers, vendors and the tribe. Our employees and others from the community were able to get these things.”

But with casino customers and others still not open, business is not up to par, and McCollins says the region’s largest printing and direct mail facility has lost a significant amount of regular monthly work. “We’re looking forward to the first casino being up and running, and keeping our fingers crossed that all of them will come back. We’re staying in touch with them but it’s difficult to have a schedule,” he said. “We’ve picked up some work because of the storm as businesses try to get the word out that they’ve reopened, but we don’t know what to expect.”

Other regular customers, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association, Hancock Bank and some local advertising agencies, have also been affected by the hurricane thus impacting the printing and direct mail business.

The sales manager says it’s fortunate that First American has customers across the country in areas not affected by the hurricanes. The Baton Rouge facility has even picked up new business as New Orleans businesses relocate there.

So far, no employees have been laid off, and McCollins says First American does not anticipate having to do so. The company has a total of 115 employees at its four facilities with the most, 75, working at the Ocean Springs headquarters.

Postal routes reopening

The storm’s impact on mail delivery also makes a difference on a business that depends on that service. As of mid-October, five carrier routes in one of Biloxi’s ZIP codes were still not being delivered, and 10 ZIP codes along the Coast have partial delivery only. Louisiana and Texas also have partial delivery, but Alabama is back up to speed.

“It changes daily, and we get daily updates on which postal routes are not being delivered because of Katrina and Rita,” he said, “and we suppress those ZIP codes. Because we suppress them, we haven’t had a lot of mail returned. It’s not up to normal yet though.”

First American has what’s called a “plant load” postal facility and has a postal service employee on site. Pieces of mail are inspected and accepted by the postal service on First American’s loading dock and go directly into the postal system for immediate distribution. “This method skips a step and is a strong selling point for us locally and all over as we look for more national work,” McCollins said.

The company also runs an on-site fulfillment house for about six customers. It sends out material for the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism division, being careful to apply stickers warning travelers that all Gulf Coast hotels and attractions may not be open.

The slow down in traffic due to closed highways and bridges is also making a difference at First American. “We’re all affected by traffic issues now,” McCollins says. “Our employees fight it daily, and we feel it with deliveries, although we’re still not doing a lot of delivering because of our missing customers.”

The company is growing under the leadership of Jon Murphy, president of First American. The Gulfport operation, consisting mainly of digital printing, signs and banners and copying, was added in 2004 bringing the number of facilities to four. The hurricanes have set them back, but McCollins says the company will continue to grow and hopes to add a new facility in 2006.

“We hope to continue to grow the volume at each production facility and continue adding new facilities,” he said. “It’s a good news story even though we lost an employee in the storm. Some of the momentum was taken away, but the main thing is to make our customers know we’re ready when they are.”

He says First American is doing some self promoting across the country and is optimistic about the future. “It’s just hard to predict when things will be back to pre-storm capacity,” he added.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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