Victims, Businesses Benefit From Hurricane-Relief Efforts

Jan. 13, 2005
By Deborah Austin GTE pledged $100,000 last week toward the Hurricane Georges relief effort in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation also pledged $100,000 for relief efforts in Puerto Rico -- and water, ...
ByDeborah Austin GTE pledged $100,000 last week toward the Hurricane Georges relief effort in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation also pledged $100,000 for relief efforts in Puerto Rico -- and water, nutritional products, generators, and financial help for its own hurricane-devastated workers there. And Enron Corp. chartered three planeloads of flashlights, food, and chain saws to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It's the morally correct thing to do. And generosity fosters a good public image. But there's also the bottom line to consider. Why would a U.S.-based corporation just give away its money and time in this way? One answer lies in the increasingly global nature of U.S. corporations. Another, in the old but economically true clich: What goes around, comes around. GTE, for example, owns and operates CODETEL, the Dominican Republic's largest telecommunications company, and is in the process of acquiring a controlling stake in the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. The GTE Foundation is donating $50,000 for each nation to the American Red Cross to aid relief efforts in those countries. "We want to help as much as we can," says GTE spokeswoman Liz Brannan. "The sheer scope of this disaster warrants special attention, and even if human services was not a philanthropic goal for GTE, I believe we would be doing this anyway." But beyond that humanitarian concern, "GTE has a vested interest in what the people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic think of the company that will be in their community. We do care about the community that we operate in. That's where we draw our employees from; they live in the community, so that has to be our number one priority." Bristol-Myers Squibb has about 2,500 employees in Puerto Rico, in a total of five plants, and a sales and marketing division. Besides the Foundation's $100,000 American Red Cross pledge, the firm itself is providing on-the-spot help to its workers. "We are firmly committed to our employees as the primary asset that the company has at this time," says Angel Fernandez, senior director of human resources for Puerto Rico and Latin America. "We all know we can write a check and acquire the latest technology; we have access to the same capital funds and materials as other companies. But we are convinced in the long run that what will make us successful in Puerto Rico is our people. They are the ones who can make decisions, and add value with those decisions. The company that shows true concern for their well-being, will in the long run acquire their loyalty and commitment to our objectives." To employees whose homes are too storm-damaged to be livable, the firm is giving a $2,500 check, which doesn't need to be repaid, says Fernandez. "If they qualify for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) help, but the transaction takes some time, we advance them up to $5,000" to be repaid once the FEMA money comes through. The firm also is giving its nutritional products to workers' families with children under age 6, providing running water to employees at its plant sites, and bringing in electrical generators for workers to borrow or purchase at cost. At plants where electric power is restored, Bristol-Myers Squibb is providing one hot meal a day for employees and families. As always in times of disaster, the firm will match funds that employees donate to help fellow workers. And besides the Red Cross donations for the community at large, the firm is gathering products to be distributed there through United Way agencies. On Sept. 28, the Bristol-Myers Squibb's Mayguez pharmaceuticals finishing plant reopened. Although 65% of the population still was without water and electricity, 95% of the workers in its oncology division came to work that day, and 99% in another area. "You show your commitment to them, and they return the commitment," says Fernandez. Houston-based energy company Enron Corp., which has facilities in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, started an impromptu employee relief drive Sept. 17, which expanded to involve the Houston community as well. The result: three Enron-chartered planeloads of relief supplies -- bottled water, batteries, blankets, lumber, food, chain saws -- sent to the two hurricane-lashed countries. "We live in the communities, we work in the communities; we're there all the time, in good times and in bad times," says Enron spokeswoman Karen Denne. "It's an investment in the community." Bristol-Myers Squibb has been in Puerto Rico since the 1970s, and always has made community a priority, says Carmen Velez, director of public affairs. "The communities in which our sites operate are very important to us. We want them to understand us, and to get their support when we need them." GTE's corporate giving program focuses year-round on human services and education, says Brannan. Both are noble causes -- but they also come back around to strengthen the business. "It strengthens the community, it's good for the economic development of community, and that has a domino effect. It works in a cycle and everyone benefits."

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