After Katrina with ITT Royce Technologies’ Jim Dartez

A year ago, Jim Dartez, general manager of ITT Sanitaire’s Royce Technologies, hosted a group of journalists at The Plimsoll Club high atop New Orleans’ World Trade Center during WEFTEC.

By Carlos David Mogollón, Managing Editor

A year ago, Jim Dartez, general manager of ITT Sanitaire’s Royce Technologies, hosted a group of journalists at The Plimsoll Club high atop New Orleans’ World Trade Center during WEFTEC.2004. It was a cloudy day and, through the humidity, you could still see for miles. Today, the panoramic view would tell a starkly different tale, he agrees.

The Louisiana native has run Royce Technologies since he and a partner bought it in 1987. ITT Industries acquired the business in January 2002. On Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina’s eye passed directly over its 20,000-square-foot facility in New Orleans’ easternmost reaches. Despite the ensuing chaos, sales did not miss a beat. That’s because Dartez transferred all company phone lines to his six offsite sales and marketing staff and told them they were now in charge while he struggled to reopen the plant.

“Well, they did such a good job, we had a normal month of sales despite all of this. I mean we virtually haven’t worked a day since the end of August. And we had a good month in sales - not shipments, of course. That’s why I’m hustling to get this thing back on its feet. We’ve got orders to fill,” said Dartez, speaking Sept. 30 via cell phone on his way to escort a 100-kW generator borrowed from a nearby customer in the catfish farming business to power the factory.

Being across the street from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, the city’s biggest employer and maker of the shuttle’s big orange exterior fuel tanks, he assumed electricity and other utilities would be up sooner. Such was not the case. Still, the building - located in one of the few areas not inundated when the levees holding back floodwater broke - suffered little from the Category 4 storm. Part of a new roof covering put in months earlier was damaged, wind took out two bay doors and water was blown in, yet all computers and IT systems were functional.

That said, Dartez expected to be in production and shipping water and wastewater sensors, analyzers and controllers to clients as usual by the first week of October. And all of this despite the fact that Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24 forced another evacuation and the company’s 20 employees were already spread across the country among the diaspora of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who wound up refugees from the nation’s worst natural disaster.

“They’re scattered from Miami to Austin, Texas,” Dartez said. “It took us two weeks to find all of them... We did have about five or six lose everything. Another five got flooded, but it was just a few inches or a foot or so. They’re homes are repairable... They can’t wait to get back. ITT continued their salary and everybody is very happy and pleased to be a part of that company.”

Dartez, himself, stayed at a downtown hotel when the hurricane struck. Three days after Katrina, he borrowed a boat from a cousin to see his home on Lake Pontchartrain. With only shingle damage there, he cut 35 miles across the lake to visit the factory but was stopped because of a lowered railroad bridge and high water. He did make it to the plant about a week later, posing as a contractor to get past National Guardsmen. By now, he’d seen satellite imagery that told him the facility had survived largely intact. Up until then, ITT had committed to reopening the facility within a month, there or elsewhere. Dartez wound up staying with his family at a hotel in his hometown, New Iberia, La., a little over 100 miles southwest of New Orleans in Bayou country - heading into the city for a few days at a time.

He said the company had planned on rolling out a new respirometer for measuring and controlling respirometry - parameters affecting oxygen levels, etc., to keep bacteria alive - in biological treatment plants at WEFTEC.2005 in Washington, DC, this month, but that’s been delayed. A Chicago engineer who holds the patent will be there at the company’s booth, though, and a related paper will be presented by the Hammond, Ind., sanitary district manager, who tested a prototype. The device will be introduced at the end of the year.

Regardless of blame for the problems New Orleans has suffered through these past few months, Dartez said he’s just glad Royce Technologies survived. “I know dozens -- and I’m talking dozens, since I’m very involved in international exporting in this community -- of businessmen that don’t have a livelihood anymore. We were just lucky.” IWW

Visit the online version of this article for a link to our full interview with Royce Technologies’ Jim Dartez.
Click here to read: An Interview with ITT Royce Technologies' Jim Dartez.

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