Despite business doing well during the pandemic, this manufacturer is nervous about the future

Kai Ryssdal and Daisy Palacios Oct 29, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
Factory workers at Erie's Sterling Technologies in 2017. Maitham Basha-Agha/Marketplace

Despite business doing well during the pandemic, this manufacturer is nervous about the future

Kai Ryssdal and Daisy Palacios Oct 29, 2020
Factory workers at Erie's Sterling Technologies in 2017. Maitham Basha-Agha/Marketplace

One of the big promises made by Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign was that he was going to bring manufacturing back to this country. But since the last campaign trail, businesses have been facing a lot of challenges — namely, a global pandemic and recession.

Cary Quigley runs Sterling Technologies, a manufacturer of large plastic containers, in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal first met with Quigley in the state around Inauguration Day in 2017. This week, he called Quigley again to check how his company is doing when it comes to the pandemic and the economy. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: So, it’s been a couple of years — like two, two and a half. How’s business?

Cary Quigley: Yeah, you know, business is actually — considering this crazy unprecedent time – business is actually great. We’re super busy.

Ryssdal: I mean, can people come to work all of that stuff?

Quigley: So, we were an essential business. We’re in the plastics business, so we actually never shut down. So, we did have some people working remotely. And anybody that doesn’t have to be here is not here. But our work environment — people actually kind of get to work pretty isolated. And yeah, we’ve been rocking the whole time.

Ryssdal: Yeah, for those who’ve never been inside a — what’s the name of the plastics technology you guys use?

Quigley: It’s rotational molding.

Ryssdal: Rotational molding, right. It’s really industrial and heavy. So, it’s not something you can do from home. Let me ask you real quick before we get to the topic at hand: How are you feeling about the future and this coronavirus, even though you’re essential? And you know, the economy is looking meh.

Quigley: Yeah, nervous day to day. We feel, you know, we’ve got a great backlog. I could hire another 30 people tomorrow if I can find them. This year has been great for the employees of this company. It’s helped them get raises. Its helped people, you know, work lots of time. But yeah, I’m very nervous about it. Because if a lockdown comes in, you know, a lot of the things we do are seasonal, and we could lose that business for forever.

Ryssdal: Let me back you up for a minute. If you needed to hire 30 people tomorrow, would that be tough for you to do?

Quigley: It is actually very difficult. We’re trying to do it. So, we’ve been running virtual ads. We’ve rented electronic billboards. And you know, this Saturday, even this Saturday being Halloween, we’ve actually got a drive-thru job fair.

Ryssdal: Wow. Are you going like 24/7 shifts? What are you doing?

Quigley: We’re 24/5. And the problem is I’ve got the business to run 24/7, but I don’t want to burn out the people. I mean, they’re working hard enough as it is. And, you know, they can’t give anymore.

Ryssdal: Right. Fair enough. So, we were out there the very first time around Inauguration Day, in 2017. Calling you back, obviously, because there’s an election on the very near-term horizon. How has the Trump administration been for you and your business?

Quigley: So, I can say for this business, and you know, I can speak for myself as president. The business is owned by the Cronkhite family. But I will tell you that the past couple years have been great years for us. And this year, our fiscal year ends Sept. 30. So we just had one of our best years in probably a decade. We’ve bought new equipment. We’re making changes to the facility to upgrade the facility. Those are the next steps. And you know, we kind of need to see what’s going to happen. Needless to say, I’m nervous. You know, I mean, I would like to see the trend that we have from the past couple years continue through the next four years.

Ryssdal: So that would be lower regulatory environment, business-friendly policies, and you’re concerned that perhaps if there’s a change in the White House come Tuesday, that would change for you?

Quigley: Well, sure, if you know, as those things change, it impacts our employee base. You know, I mean, this company, the ownership of this company has done a great job of making it a trickle-down effect. We’re an open book company, so we share any of our profits with the employees, all of them and any of our losses with them. And again, the last couple years have been good, and it’s reflected in the raises that they’re getting. And sure, if we go back to where the business is not as profitable, you know, the employee base shares in that.

Ryssdal: Biggest unknown for you then is the politics in the United States of America, right?

Quigley: That’s right. Yeah, for sure.

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