With U.S. state governments closing schools, restaurants and banning large gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and known cases climbing to almost 3,500 in the country, manufacturers are preparing for shutdowns while still balancing their employees' needs.
North Tonawanda, N.Y.-based blow molder and swimming pool accessory manufacturer Confer Plastics Inc. announced March 16 that the business would go into a temporary shutdown in two weeks after New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged businesses to shut down to decrease the spread of the coronavirus.
President Bob Confer said the company will cover employee's portions of their health insurance premiums for the first four weeks of any shutdown.
"We don't want our team to have a debt to the company/insurance coming out of the layoff/quarantine," Confer said initially in a tweet.
The molder won't begin temporarily laying off workers until March 29, "unless the state mandates it sooner," Confer told Plastics News in an email.
"We plan to ride it out as long as the county, state and federal governments require," Confer said. "During the shutdown we will still have certain business functions taking place remotely, activities like customer service, sales and engineering. If we find that governments loosen the reins a little during an extended shutdown, we will go back into shipping from our distribution center."
Erie and Niagara counties already have declared states of emergency, Confer added in a letter to customers.
"Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo strongly encouraged all business to shut down soon, or a mandated shutdown of communities will be coming (which means it IS coming)," Confer said in the March 16 letter. "The next two weeks will be business as usual at the plant. Shipping hours at our distribution center will be extended. … After these two weeks pass we will go into a two-week shutdown — maybe longer if the state mandates."
But despite the difficult decisions faced by Confer Platics and other companies — and a new forecast from IHS Markit that expects the U.S. GDP to slide into recession — Bob Confer expects the coronavirus to be just "a blip, a minor bump in the road."
"It might seem odd, given the shutdown and what most of the economy is seeing, "Confer said. "But we have relatively decent hopes for 2020 and beyond. The new norm of social distancing, the return of the recession mindset and the cancellations of vacations reintroduces families to staycations, backyard living and the outdoor experience. All of that plays right into our specialties.
"Also, extended delays in Chinese supply chains have forced many companies to rethink their outsourcing. We welcome re-shoring and their interest in domestic manufacturing," he added.