It’s no surprise that preppers and their suppliers are having an “I told you so” moment in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the media capital of the world. The New York Times leads its Sunday Business section with a story about a booming business segment built on Americans’ fears of a return to the dark ages:
Waukesha, Wis.: Folks here don’t wish disaster on their fellow Americans. They didn’t pray for Hurricane Sandy to come grinding up the East Coast, tearing lives apart and plunging millions into darkness.
But the fact is, disasters are good business in Waukesha. And, lately, there have been a lot of disasters.
This Milwaukee suburb, once known for its curative spring waters and, more recently, for being a Republican stronghold in a state that President Obama won on Election Day, happens to be the home of one of the largest makers of residential generators in the country. So when the lights go out in New York — or on the storm-savaged Jersey Shore or in tornado-hit Missouri or wherever — the orders come pouring in like a tidal surge.
It’s all part of what you might call the Mad Max Economy, a multibillion-dollar-a-year collection of industries that thrive when things get really, really bad. Weather radios, kerosene heaters, D batteries, candles, industrial fans for drying soggy homes — all are scarce and coveted in the gloomy aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and her ilk.
It didn’t start with the last few hurricanes, either. Modern Mad Max capitalism has been around a while, decades even, growing out of something like old-fashioned self-reliance, political beliefs and post-Apocalyptic visions. The cold war may have been the start, when schoolchildren dove under desks and ordinary citizens dug bomb shelters out back. But economic fears, as well as worries about climate change and an unreliable electronic grid have all fed it.
Driven of late by freakish storms, this industry is growing fast, well beyond the fringe groups that first embraced it. And by some measures, it’s bigger than ever.
Businesses like Generac Power Systems, one of three companies in Wisconsin turning out generators, are just the start.
The market for gasoline cans, for example, was flat for years. No longer. “Demand for gas cans is phenomenal, to the point where we can’t keep up with demand,” says Phil Monckton, vice president for sales and marketing at Scepter, a manufacturer based in Scarborough, Ontario. “There was inventory built up, but it is long gone.”
Even now, nearly two weeks after the superstorm made landfall in New Jersey, batteries are a hot commodity in the New York area. Win Sakdinan, a spokesman for Duracell, says that when the company gave away D batteries in the Rockaways, a particularly hard-hit area, people “held them in their hands like they were gold.”…
[continues in the New York Times]
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