North American manufacturers are making plans to reopen in phases, with the help of guidelines from industry associations, as restrictions on nonessential business begin to ease in some states and cities.
North Tonawanda, N.Y.-based blow molder and swimming pool accessory manufacturer Confer Plastics Inc. is starting up new essential production lines starting May 4. The move will bring back 36 of 165 employees laid off in a temporary shutdown following the state's Gov. Andrew Cuomo's suggestion in mid-March that businesses shut down to decrease the spread of the coronavirus.
President Bob Confer told Plastics News the company will begin to make items for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard in its first restart phase. The second phase, Confer said, will bring the number of employees in the plant to about 50 to manufacture essential spa products for medical purposes.
"After that, we're hoping the state will allow us to go into general production, including our swimming pool products and other custom products," he said. "Even then, we're gradually going to take our time with every other week adding about 20 people to the team. So it's going to take us quite some time to get back up to our normal numbers, but I anticipate being there by mid-July.
"I think we're going to meet a lot of consumer demand over the course of the next two months given that the state allows us to make general products that are not considered essential right now," Confer said.
Confer Plastics has applied twice with the state of New York to be approved to restart business, and it is now waiting on a legal team to approve its last application, Confer said.
"We've indicated the need that exists for our swimming pool products based on the fact that we're looking a world right now that's focusing on home confinement and staycations," Confer said. "We're hoping we'll get the OK.
"I'm hopeful that they do approve it and we can get into production by mid-May," he said. "And even if they don't, there's a likely chance that the state will regionally allow western New York manufacturers to go back into business by then."
In addition to taking steps to protect its employees as they return to work like checking temperatures, mandating the use of masks, expanding work stations and implementing education on how to run machines under the new social distancing standards, on April 28, Confer Plastics announced Nick Kocur, who previously managed a distribution center for the company, would take on the role of COVID-19 administrator.
Kocur will "help create controls, enforce and track the controls to make sure we're doing them properly and make sure there's no occurrence of disease within the plant or within family associated with our workforce," Confer said. "He's incredibly bright and gifted and has a great knack for being able to manage multiple tasks and organize things"
The position will last anywhere from six to 12 months, he said, "depending on how long it takes the world to put an end to this virus."
Walled Lake, Mich.-based American Plastic Toys Inc.'s Olive Branch, Miss., plant reopened after the state eased some restrictions in its shelter-in-place order April 24.
The plant is currently operating at about 50-60 percent capacity, President and CEO John Gessert said, while plants in Michigan are still closed.
"Easing back into work," Gessert said, has been met with some "reluctancy."
"The jobs are certainly available," he said. "The federal and state unemployment programs have been so lucrative that some employees are taking their time coming back. And I think some new employees are taking their time to go out there and get a job. … I would say it's just side effect of carefully coming back, making sure that our procedures for checking people in, setting up production lines for social distancing."