The Georgia World Congress Center is fully back in action, following a monumental clean-up and repair effort that began scant hours after a March 14 tornado inflicted tens of millions of dollars of damage throughout the cavernous 3.9-million-square-foot facility.

Patrick LaFramboise, president and CEO, of the International Woodworking Machinery & Supply Fair-USA, the GWCC’s biggest tenant, is one of many people who are breathing easier following the initial shock and awe of the bad news.

“Seeing video on the 11:00 p.m. news of portions of the GWCC roof missing got my attention quickly,” LaFramboise recalled. “My first thought was I need to get down there to see everything for myself.”

When LaFramboise and IWF colleague Kevin Holtzclaw arrived at the GWCC the following afternoon they found hundreds of clean up and repair people busily at work. “There had to have been six 40-foot trailers with water and moisture extraction equipment already parked on International Boulevard when we arrived. It was pretty amazing to see such a large group already mobilized and on-site working.”

42 Days and 42 Nights

The initial cleanup was soon followed by 42 days of around-the-clock repairs. Eleven hundred trade workers logged more than 270,000 total man hours to repair all three buildings of the GWCC. The final portion of Building B, which sustained the heaviest damage, was the last to reopen on April 28.

An assessment of the work by GWCC representatives resulted in a laundry list of repairs, including:

• Replacing 375,000 square feet of acoustical ceiling tiles;

• Replacing 725,000 square feet of roof area;

• Repairing 100,000 square feet of building structure; and

• Repairing damage to 4,500 glass lights.

Many of the repairs reportedly represent significant improvements to what was. For example Building A — aka the IWF supply hall — now has safety glass that is more energy efficient and safer in the event of inclement weather. In addition, the new ceiling tiles are said to offer better acoustics and energy efficiency because of how they reflect light.

“I hope I’m going to be able to look back on this as a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” LaFramboise said. “It was interesting and a bit challenging. Once would be enough.”

IWF Survey Finds Reasons for Optimism

Members of the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America, the Woodworking Machinery Industry Assn. and the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the three groups that own IWF, no doubt have joined LaFramboise in breathing a collective sigh of relief.

The WMMA was in the middle of a major research project that involved surveying 2006 IWF attendees when the tornado stuck its blow. Preliminary results of the survey released by WMMA offer a ray of hope in light of the tenuous economy for new housing and wood products.

Asked to rate the expected business performance for their company in 2008, 63% predicted “excellent” or “good” results as opposed to 8% who anticipate “poor” or “terrible” results.

Of great interest to manufacturers and distributors of woodworking machinery, software and cutting tools is the study’s findings on expected investment in capital improvements in 2008.

Approximately one-third of respondents said their company will spend more than $100,000 to beef up their production operations. The three major emphases of these investments include software, finishing and solid wood machining.

Wood & Wood Products will include additional findings of the WMMA’s study in the June issue, which includes a comprehensive overview of IWF.

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