Jon Huntsman Sr. pledges millions for Harvey’s victims, asks businesses to match donation

Jon Huntsman Sr. pledges millions for Harvey’s victims, asks businesses to match donation

In a time of tremendous loss and dire need in Southeast Texas following Hurricane Harvey, Jon Huntsman Sr., founder and executive chairman of the Huntsman Corporation, has responded and is issuing a challenge to other business leaders — give.

In a special press conference Tuesday, Sept. 5, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, which was still closed for business due to Hurricane Harvey, Huntsman announced that he wanted to help get Southeast Texans back on their feet.

Huntsman pledged to donate $1 million of his own personal money and another $1 million from the Huntsman Family Foundation for a total of $2 million to what is being deemed the Huntsman Flood Fund.

“As the region begins to recover and rebuild, we want to be part of that process and support the communities that have given us so much over the years,” Huntsman said. “We are proud to call Southeast Texas home, and we are looking forward to the positive impact these donations will have on the people in the local communities and Huntsman associates who need it most.”

Huntsman said although he is making a substantial initial donation to the cause of recovery, he wants to pass his baton of charity off to area businesses to continue giving Southeast Texans the support they so desperately need.

“We have a lot of contractors in this area that we’ve utilized over the years in Port Neches and in Port Arthur. Our contractors and suppliers, we want you to match whatever it is that we’re putting up,” Huntsman said. “Two million should be $4 million within two weeks. Our goal is to have a $4 to 4.5 million fund.”

The Beaumont Foundation of America, which is managing the Huntsman Flood Fund as a separate 501(c)(3), originally pledged $500,000 to the cause. On Sept. 7, it was announced that the Beaumont Foundation pledge had increased to $1 million.

“We will start with that and go from there,” said Gilbert I. “Buddy” Low, board member of the Beaumont Foundation of America. “We will solicit others to help us. You don’t have to be a foundation to give money.”

Philanthropist Wayne A. Reaud reiterated the need for area business leaders to step up and donate to the cause.

“Now is truly the time to give,” Reaud said. “There’s truly a lot of misery in this community, and it’s not going to end anytime soon.”

Huntsman said the fund is to be used to help children who are trying to return to school buy books, clothing, school supplies, to rebuild their homes and return to some sense of normalcy.

“These funds will be used to do the things that are absolutely essential for families and for people who have lost everything,” he said.

Reaud called Huntsman the most generous man he has ever known.

“I thank Jon Huntsman, who I truly believe is the greatest living man in America. He and his wife Karen have given over $1 billion away,” Reaud said. “He is a wonderful human being.”

When Huntsman heard of the damage Hurricane Harvey caused in Southeast Texas, he immediately responded.

“He called me and wanted to know what he could do for the people of this community,” Reaud said. “When he made his first investment in our community, it was a big leap of faith for him, and the men and women of this community who work for the Huntsman Corporation have worked and have done a great job and made this business profitable, and he has not forgotten that.”

Huntsman, a native of Utah, spoke about his love and appreciation for the people of Southeast Texas.

“I started the business almost 50 years ago, and we’ve been in Jefferson County over 25 years, and (it has) the finest employees in the world,” Huntsman said, adding that he visited the Port Neches plant before the press conference to hug each employee and tell them how much he loves each and every one of them. “We’re grateful for Beaumont and for Jefferson County. You’ve produced some of the finest people in the world here. … It’s a great area, which we call home.”

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick explained the impact the storm had on Jefferson County, and especially the Mid-County area, where Huntsman Port Neches Operations is located.

“Over a three-day period, we received rainfall amounts as high as 56 inches in some parts of the county, which were well in excess of the designed capacity of our flood control system,” Branick said, “and as a result, you’ve witnessed carnage in this area that is heretofore unseen.”

In the city of Groves, 3,000 of the 6,000 homes immediately adjacent to the Huntsman chemical plant were severely damaged, Branick said. In Port Neches, almost 600 homes were flooded.

Branick said counts haven’t been taken in Port Arthur yet, but he expects the number of damaged homes to be more than twice the number in Groves. All 498 homes in the city of Bevil Oaks were destroyed, Branick added.

And only 16 percent of the people in Port Arthur had national flood insurance, according to the county judge.

“Eighty-four percent, many low to moderate income, are without hope,” he said, “and it’s when people take action — like Mr. Huntsman, Mr. Reaud and Mr. Low — that people can start to get some hope back. And with hope, we can accomplish anything.”

One estimate from AccuWeather and the National Climatic Data Center places the direct damage, which includes property and immediate business interruption, at $190 billion.

“If that amount is close to the final number, it will be the costliest storm in U.S. history,” according to economist Ray Perryman.

Overall, Hurricane Harvey is estimated to have caused damage to over 230,000 homes and will result in nearly $40 billion in reconstruction costs, according to financial analytic group CoreLogic.

“Harvey, although not accompanied by the winds we saw in hurricanes Rita and Ike, was much more destructive,” Branick said. “It’s against that backdrop of destruction that I was contacted many times throughout the process by Mr. Wayne Reaud wanting to know what he could do to help … assist the citizens of Jefferson County. It is through his friendship and long relationship with Mr. Jon Huntsman that I found Mr. Huntsman’s concern for our area. … They were confident that they could bring the resources necessary to significantly impact the lives of the people in our area. Their only demand was that whatever form this took that it be impactful, sustainable and affect long-term recovery and be devoid of any abuse or misuse of the funds. I know that whatever framework is set up to do that, it’s going to accomplish those purposes, and I’m so thankful for how much they love this community and how much they are willing to help us recover.”

The Huntsman Corp., in addition, is continuing to support impacted associates by offering compensation to those whose primary residence has been damaged by floodwaters, providing hotel rooms and vehicles to those that have been displaced or left without transportation. The Port Neches site has also donated generators and water trucks to shelters in Jefferson County.

Approximately 100 Huntsman associates in the Houston and Golden Triangle areas saw their homes significantly impacted by the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the company reports, adding that all associates who work at its locations across the state of Texas have been accounted for. Huntsman Family Foundation and the Huntsman family have contributed over $10 million to local relief efforts and Huntsman associates affected by Hurricane Harvey, according to a release by the company.

The Huntsman Flood Fund will be administered through existing nonprofits and governmental entities and not directly to victims in need to expedite delivery to those in need.