Katrina's Economic Impact Focus of Study
By Erica Plouffe Lazure
The Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University received more than $200,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation this month to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf region and investigate reconstruction efforts in New Orleans.
The first grant, totaling $172,596, enables researchers from ECU’s Economics, Planning, and Sociology departments to measure national attitudes toward rebuilding New Orleans and the commitment of federal monies to restoration. With the second grant, totaling $29,881, researchers will assess the economic impact of Katrina on the affected areas as well as the impact of evacuees on their host communities.
Both projects are a National Science Foundation initiative that allows researchers to collect information that is considered “ephemeral,” said Jamie Kruse, director of the research center and an ECU professor of economics.
In developing a research question for the first grant, Kruse observed there has been much discussion in the media about how to rebuild New Orleans, but she was not aware of any broad, scientific study that would gauge public attitudes about New Orleans.
“The question is: Will the rebuilding effort be able to recapture that culture? New Orleans is a city of multiple generations and historical landmarks,” she said. “But on the other hand, there was high poverty and crime.”
The team of researchers plans to assess what people want to preserve about New Orleans and to what extent taxpayers are willing to pay. The research will begin this month. A total of 14,000 households from across the United States will be surveyed. Concentrated sampling will be undertaken for those who lived in areas hit by Hurricane Katrina including New Orleans.
“Mississippi took a huge hit, but it hasn’t received the press that New Orleans has,” Kruse said. “We want to know whether there is a perceived sense of ‘crowding out’ when it comes to federal assistance. That is, whether funds sent to New Orleans preclude rebuilding projects in other parts of the region.”
The team of investigators on the project includes Kruse, ECU professors Harold Stone (Planning), Kenneth R. Wilson (Sociology), Okmyung Bin and Craig E. Landry (Economics) and John Whitehead, a former ECU professor now at Appalachian State. The team expects the findings of the survey will be used by planners and federal agencies involved in the recovery process.
For the second NSF grant, ECU’s Natural Hazards Research Center is working with partners at Texas Tech University, Stephen F. Austin College and Mississippi State University-Gulfport to survey approximately 400 people displaced after Hurricane Katrina. Kruse said the economic impact of Katrina on the disaster-struck region will be estimated by many researchers. The unique contribution of this study is that it will also look at the effects of the evacuees on the host community.
“When a region plays host, there is an economic impact. North Carolina and Texas took in thousands of evacuees,” she said.
“It is possible that with the federal funding available for the evacuees, there may be a positive economic impact to offset the drain on the host regions resources. We want to get a handle on both the financial inflows as well as outflows to determine what happens when a community receives a major evacuee population.”
In addition to surveys and some face-to-face interviews, the researchers will investigate the number of jobs lost, new jobs created from recovery efforts and jobs sustained. They will also determine value-added (in dollars) to the local economy from enterprise operations. Kruse said it is possible that the host communities might benefit economically by the presence of an evacuee population.
“These are altruistic communities that have opened their doors to people in need,” Kruse said. “It would be nice to know whether there is a benefit to the community that is lending the helping hand.”
The Center for Natural Hazards Research, founded in 2004, is housed in the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences.