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COVID-19

How the pandemic is changing South Carolina manufacturing

Kai Ryssdal and Bennett Purser Apr 15, 2020
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Inside Assembly North at BMW's Spartanburg manufacturing facility, the biggest BMW factory in the world. Bridget Bodnar/Marketplace
COVID-19

How the pandemic is changing South Carolina manufacturing

Kai Ryssdal and Bennett Purser Apr 15, 2020
Inside Assembly North at BMW's Spartanburg manufacturing facility, the biggest BMW factory in the world. Bridget Bodnar/Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
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More than 200 international companies have operations in South Carolina’s Spartanburg County. The area’s biggest employer is the BMW plant, which has temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite the virus shuttering much of the global economy, many of Spartanburg’s manufacturers are still open for essential business.

Sixty-five percent of manufacturing companies there are operating in some capacity, according to David Britt, chair of the economic development committee of the Spartanburg County Council. Some facilities have even pivoted to produce medical and protective equipment needed to fight the virus. Britt spoke with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the challenges of manufacturing during the crisis and what it will take to keep factories running.

“For industry to come back in full force, or even halfway, we need reliable tests, and that’s a huge problem,” Britt said. “In manufacturing, we need masks, we need gloves — but most importantly — we need tests.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

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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