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COVID-19

U.S. manufacturers are adjusting supply chains due to coronavirus

Sabri Ben-Achour and Rose Conlon Feb 11, 2020
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One of the millions of people who returned to work in China this week after the extended Lunar New Year holiday, which was meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many businesses remain closed, however. STR/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

U.S. manufacturers are adjusting supply chains due to coronavirus

Sabri Ben-Achour and Rose Conlon Feb 11, 2020
One of the millions of people who returned to work in China this week after the extended Lunar New Year holiday, which was meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many businesses remain closed, however. STR/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The Chinese government is urging people in areas less affected by the coronavirus outbreak to go back to work this week, telling farmers not to miss the spring planting season and asking large companies aim towards production targets.

But many businesses in China remain closed as employees self-quarantine at home and grapple with interrupted domestic supply chains and shipping networks, deepening the toll on the global economy. With so many factories idled, some companies outside of China have been scrambling to find alternate sources for materials.

One such company is Riverdale Mills, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of welded wire mesh used to make everything from lobster traps to garden fencing. CEO Jim Knott told Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour that the virus has forced them to look to Latin America and Europe for chemicals and pigments that are necessary to their production, which ends up being more expensive.

At the same time, the company is struggling with other trade disruptions.

“The rising value of the U.S. dollar presents challenges to manufacturers such as Riverdale Mills,” said Knott, whose company exports about 45% of their product. “It makes our product less desirable on the export market.”

Add tariffs into the mix, and the cost of importing products goes up, too.

“We’re really relying on the domestic economy to supply us with all the raw materials we need. In many cases, that can’t be done,” said Knott.

Click the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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