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The manufacturing industry faces a unique challenge as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, manufacturers, especially those in essential businesses, cannot simply close down and halt production because it would have severe implications to the supply chain. On the other hand, they have to ensure the health and safety of their workforce. Harold King and Johnnieanne Hansen from The Council of Industry join Brian Powers on the show and share the challenges manufacturers in the Hudson Valley region have to deal with as they try to figure out how to work with a host of new requirements and regulations. Working with manufacturers in the region for more than a century now, the Council is well-equipped to help them through this crisis by being an avenue for the sharing of best practices that everyone can learn from in these challenging times.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Manufacturing Industry And COVID-19 With Harold King And Johnnieanne Hansen

Welcome, Harold King and Johnnieanne Hansen from The Council of Industry. I’m glad to have you here. For the people that don’t know about you and The Council of Industry, give us a little bit of background on what you do.

We are the manufacturer’s association of the Hudson Valley. We have about 110 manufacturing companies, as well as another 60 or so that support organization like your own called associate members. As a manufacturer’s association, we focus on a number of things such as workforce development, advocacy and training and development. We try to provide some discounts and benefits to our members. Through many years that we’ve been in business, we try to do whatever our members ask us to do.

It is a great organization that a lot of our clients are members of. We are an active associate member as well, so I appreciate it. Harold, you’re the President and CEO and Johnnieanne is the VP of Operations of Workforce Development and anything else that Harold needs help with. The point of having this conversation is to talk about everything related to the crisis of COVID-19, how it’s affecting your membership and the resources you are providing. What are you seeing and what are you providing for your members?

I’ll start with what we’re doing and then I’ll let Johnnieanne talk a little bit about how our members are working with their workforce to make sure that they’re safe, which is a big piece of what we’re trying to communicate to them. It felt like a decade ago, but before it hit, our main purpose and focus was on trying to build a workforce for our members and closing the skills gap for them. We still see that as a role for us and into the near term as well. As everything unfolded at the end of March 2020 and into April of 2020, we quickly pivoted to getting our members as much information as we could get them about complying with the whole slew of changes in state and federal laws and regulations. We are helping them understand what an essential business was, whether they met those criteria.

We are helping them comply with paid family leave and understand the difference between a furlough and lay off. We are helping them understand what they needed to do if they were going to be an essential business to keep their workers safe. We hunkered down and had to cancel a whole bunch of our in-person events like every other organization and shift in this online virtual world. That is a little surreal, but it takes a little getting used to and we’re coping pretty well. We became a conduit of information from taking that fire hose of information that was coming out of the federal government, the state government and digesting it to what a manufacturer in the Hudson Valley needs to know. We’re making that digestion and then try to get that information to our members, whether that was by email or with our blog or with phone calls.

I would also add to that with Harold and his humble nature, there’s a value to taking all of the different sources and filtering it out through what matters to manufacturers in the Hudson Valley. That’s something that Harold was able to do quickly, pick up on that and answer specific questions as well as broad questions. It’s overwhelming out there with how much information. If you’re working from home, it seems ten times more with the news and everything. One of the things that Harold’s been able to do is mine down into that. When a company calls and says, “I read all that, but I make this. How does this get impacted and what’s going to happen?” That was a big piece of it.

You guys are doing that well with your email updates that come through, your website and resources as well. It was tough. We’re able to dive down even deeper because we’ve got more guidance from the treasury, more guidance from the SBA on resources there. I felt like it was almost every hour things were changing.

TAP 4 | COVID-19 And Manufacturing

COVID-19 And Manufacturing: Manufacturers face the tremendous challenge of balancing the need to keep their workers employed and safe at the same time.

 

That’s because they were changing.

You’re 100% right. It feels like it was months ago, not weeks ago that this all started because we went from 50% employees to 25% to none on the non-essential side and going through all the craziness with the SBA and that kind of stuff. It’s still filtering out as well. Talk about what are your members looking for when they reach out.

Johnnieanne and I have talked about this. It’s come in waves as things unfolded. That first wave was clearly essential versus non-essential. We did our first webinar where we took some of our members who wanted to share best practices on keeping their employees safe. They had already taken steps without state or federal intervention. They had said, “Our workforce is important. People can work from home, but they can’t make things from home. They have to come in and our production people need to be on the floor. What can we do to keep them safe?” We had done a webinar on that and we had brought in three of our members representing different sizes, shapes and ownership structures to talk about what they were doing and the common themes. That was the day that the 50% rule was going to take place. When we were on the phone on this call, that word came that it was going to be 25% if you were not an essential business. That was stressful enough, how do we get to 50% or 25%? That’s almost impossible, then 24 hours later, it was zero.

As that unfolded, it became important to understand what an essential business was. Manufacturing at the time, if you looked at the ESD guidelines, the original guidelines and the original thing that the state put out was going to be food, pharma and medical devices. That was very limited and a little scary. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in Albany. More practical heads realized that it was much bigger than that the supply chain for those things is deep and long and the defense industry is significant. In this case, the Manufacturer’s Alliance of New York, which we’re a founding member, were able to build some bridges. We have some conversations with the people in Albany and get that essential list of manufacturers lengthened to include some things that are important like packaging, electronic devices, microelectronics. You could imagine if people’s phones were all breaking or they couldn’t get the equipment that they needed to keep their business operating even remotely. That would be a challenge. That was the first wave.

The second wave was the state also did some of the recognized and they were going to lay off and shutdown. They came up with the paid family leave laws and unemployment changes. The federal government similarly did some things, so then that next thing was like, “How do we comply with this stuff?” That was overwhelming frustration of our HR people and our CEO like, “What is this stuff? Make sure we’re taken care of.” That was week two and then week three, the financial impact started to become a reality and the CARES Act was passed. To understand what that meant, what was in that Paycheck Protection Program, what an EIDL loan is, what their options are and how that was going on folded and we were fortunate enough. I don’t know if you know Steve Bulger, who’s the SBA Regional Director. He’s a guy that we’ve been known for a decade or more. He worked for Congressman Gibson for a while and he’s been a good friend of our association. He was able to connect us with some key people that were able to answer some questions and that was a big help as well.

Now, it’s been like all of the above. It’s the fine-tuning of all of that stuff, keeping that information flowing and keeping people understanding what that is. I’ll let Johnnieanne talk about the reality on the ground people working and what are best practices. We’re doing a survey of our members and without a doubt, their number one concern bar anything is the health and safety of their workforce. We say sure because we know that for a fact of our Hudson Valley manufacturers probably would say that in the best of times, let alone this. The fact that they’re going above and beyond even the best practices to make sure they’re safe is a real thing. That’s something we’re helping with and sharing that as well.

I would add to that in terms of the reality of the workforce. First, they want to make sure that they are capitalized enough to be able to offer and continue to keep people on the payroll and having these jobs to come back to. There are lots of strategies that’s been involved in that and navigating that process, but also, we’re coming into the piece where wellbeing and health are real. What percentage of their population is potentially not well or at risk? There’s a lot of that on the ground and one of the things I keep going back to is one of our members said 50% of the employees are thankful to have a paycheck and the other half are angry that they have to come to work because they’re scared. Somebody said to me at one of our packaging companies that an employee came in and said, “We just make boxes. Why are we here?”

A manufacturer’s number one concern should always be the health and safety of their workforce. Click To Tweet

He went and explained it to them and said, “All of the toilet paper that needs to get where it needs to go comes in a box. All of the hand sanitizers that all these other companies have been ramping up for comes in packaging. It doesn’t seem essential when you’re sitting and doing that little piece of the job, but in the big picture, it is.” There’s a mental health capacity to this. One of the things we’re talking about a lot is communication. Communication with your team, transparency and recognizing from a leadership perspective, “I don’t have all the answers, but here’s everything that I know. Here’s what I’m doing to keep you employed and to keep you safe and healthy.” We have a lot of great best practices on our website, our blog and our resource page, but they’re working hard to keep it healthy and also sustainable, so that people have jobs to come back to when this changes.

It’s probably one of the biggest balancing acts we’ve ever seen and have tried to keep people employed, businesses open but keeping them safe at the same time.

It’s tricky because we’re also asking our leaders to figure out how to come out of this, how do we be ready and having no idea what that means. When does that turn around? I talked to somebody and I said, “What does this look like for you in the next three months?” She said, “Shift, shift again, then shift again.” Who knows, but we have to be ready to throw away everything we knew in January 2020 and rise to meet the occasion that comes next that we don’t even know what that is while still managing the person walking in the building. How does that person maintain their health and prevent themselves or others from getting sick?

I know you have a ton of resources on your website, but let’s talk about maybe some of the best practices when it comes to keeping their employees safe. Also, on the communicating side, what are you seeing a lot of manufacturers doing?

I spoke to one of our CEOs and he said, “If you want to learn from my mistake.” His mistake was he was communicating with everybody in the building about building safety. He hadn’t been as much communicating about who they were exposed to outside and he didn’t realize some of those things until it was too far gone and it had caused a ripple effect. For example, he’s saying the communication is, “Talk to your team every single day, not just about whether or not they wiped down their space, but about their wellbeing. How was their family? Who else is in their world that they’re worried about? Do they go home to a family member who’s at risk? Is that a concern?” In this case, he gave one example of two employees who were roommates. One of the employees was not well and he was like, “Both of you need to go home paid because even though you’re not showing those symptoms.” If it wasn’t the fact that they both worked there, he would never have known that. That was his message about communication, really taking the time.

Also, if you can talk to your employees every day about their wellbeing and where they’re at mentally, he was the same one who said somebody came in and said, “Why are we here? This seems so non-essential.” They walked out of that meeting saying, “You’re right. We are doing something and I can help.” Communication is critical. This isn’t a manufacturing thing. This is humans to humans. Fundamentally. I believe that there is an element of these are human beings that come into your establishment and trust you. There’s that basic, “Don’t forget when we’re so worried about all those other things.”

I would also say from a manufacturing perspective, what we’re hearing for some best practices. Harold talked about extending shifts. We are making it so that the same number of people, but they work over a longer period of time in separate areas and entrances. A lot of our members are taking their temperatures and checking that. Many of our members are in the position to say, “If you’re not comfortable, then that’s okay.” Some of them aren’t. They need these employees to come in. All of the social distancing, I think manufacturing is set up to be successful with this. It’s generally a very big space with fewer people. That’s working in our favor. There’s a bunch on our website.

TAP 4 | COVID-19 And Manufacturing

COVID-19 And Manufacturing: Manufacturing is set up to be successful with social distancing because it generally involves a very big space with fewer people.

 

Multiple shifts were very interesting to see. A company that typically would have one shift going to two to minimize the number of people there and isolating those shifts so that those workers don’t talk to each other. It’s certainly, from a hygiene perspective, hand sanitizer, wiping down machines, wiping down surfaces consistently regularly, change every shift and every break and closing down common areas. We hear that there is no cafeteria open or if the cafeteria is open, they only limited to one person at a table. Some talk about using different doors for shifts, so that they don’t come through that way and the temperature taking is a big thing. That was instituted early by a lot of our members. That process requires them to take their temperature at home before they come in and then they take it again. If it’s 100 degrees, they ask them to go home. Usually with pay, but they want to keep symptomatic people out of the work.

Are you hearing from members that there are employees saying, “No, I don’t want to have my temperature taken,” or “No, I won’t participate?”

There’s a little bit of that. We’ve heard a lot about the HIPAA requirements or there are all kinds of things. A lot of that is like, “We’re going to face the consequences.” We are going to do that and yet people don’t want it. If their temperature is not taken, they can’t work. That’s the bottom line. I don’t want to get too particular here and the details of the rules and the regulations are less important than the spirit and as Johnnieanne said, it is how you communicate and talk to people. If people are not comfortable coming to work, but they have a job and they think they’re going to get unemployment, they may not. That’s not the way the system works. Most of our members are saying, “If they’re not comfortable and they want to go on unemployment, we’re not going to contest it, but that’s not forever and that could change quickly. That’s not everybody.” That’s a risk that people are taking.

From a workforce standpoint, it’s a tricky balance. Just because you have a job now, doesn’t mean you always have a job. Sometimes, the human nature of a workforce is the cream that rises to the top. That employee who is saying, “I don’t want to come to work to deal with that.” Hopefully, there’s a job for them to come back to and hopefully, there’s not a reduction. As Harold said, “By the official guidelines, not wanting to go to work doesn’t qualify him.” We have some companies who’ve done a great job with their communication. Their teams are saying, “I do trust that you have my best interest at heart and you’re doing everything possible and I will.” One of the same people I spoke to said that the first couple of days, they had people saying, “I’m not comfortable coming to work.” By the 3rd or 4th day, they were saying, “I do believe that you’re doing everything possible and I want to come in.” It is about communication. If I’m an employee in these situations, first, I’m hoping I’ve already worked for an organization that has my best interest at heart and I’m looking to figure out how I can do it as opposed to how I can get home and collect them.

They often say that the true colors shine through at times like this. They have to put their proper precautions in place and communicate properly and hope that will help the employees to stay and/or return.

We are in this spirit of we are all in this together and working hard. Our members have been great about sharing information and best practices, not just with us but with each other. It’s a resource that we’ve provided for a century, but in this case, it’s helpful. We did something strategically, but also out of the goodness of our heart is we extended our membership to every Hudson Valley manufacturer for April 2020. We felt that the news and information that we were getting out there was important and necessary that we have included everybody on our email blast and given them access to things. Hopefully, in the long run, that might help us pick up some new members, but we do know for sure that it’s going to help a whole lot more workers and more families be safe. That’s the intent behind that.

We’re all trying to figure this out as well. We’ve pivoted here. We know that for a few months we’re going to be doing things this way. We do know too that something’s going to change and we will come out of this in some way, shape or form. One thing we see, even in the midst of layoffs, downsizing and all the trouble, some of these companies and some of our members are busy. They can’t get people to work and they’re trying to ramp up. They’re trying to add people. We were confident that when we come out that there’s going to be a continued need to close that skills gap and to get good people to work in manufacturing. We’re hopeful that the work that we were doing prior to this in that area will continue. Johnnieanne’s title of Vice President of Operations and Workforce Development will continue as well as chief cook and bottle washer.

We need to be ready to throw away everything we knew at the beginning of the year and rise to meet whatever comes next, whenever that is. Click To Tweet

I feel like the big thing is the Payroll Protection Program that has been rolled or tried to roll out. How are your members seeing that? How are they navigating through it? We have clients on our end that are like, “It’s been a hit or miss.”

It’s mostly hit from what we hear. Some of the misses that I understand have been happening are companies or smaller businesses that don’t have relationships with banks. They have been pushed to the back of a line. People who don’t have good documentation or had trouble with some of the technology. For our members, Brian, you know them. These are companies that are pretty well established. A lot of them are 3rd or 4th-generation businesses. They have long-term relationships with their financial institutions. The actual program ended up from what we hear varies by bank.

Most companies that we’ve talked to got through it fairly quickly and they did a good job getting through. No one has heard positively that they got their loan. Most are positive that they’re going to see it. The questions remain over how they’re going to access it and what they’re going to use the money for. They definitely will be keeping people on and the intent is to keep that employer-employee relationship intact. In our world at least, the program has been working as designed and remains to be seen if the money shows up in their checking account.

We’ve seen pretty much the same of those people that are well established. I mean, the sole proprietors and the people that are self-employed could start to apply. We’ll see how it fares for them, but you’re right. The more well-established businesses are seeing the process goes a little bit smoother. Hopefully, that money funnels in quickly.

A lot of companies also applied for EIDL funds as well. There’s some decision that has to be made of which one you take and why. It seems like, at least on our end, it’s going fairly smoothly. I can imagine that it will run out of money. I know that the House of Senate is trying to top it off with another $250 billion, but that remains to be seen. We were talking about this that it would have been nice if this plan were in place before they shut everything down so that you could say, “We’re going to force you to work from home or maybe close half the businesses in the country, but we’re going to keep you employed by giving this money to your employer.” This is a general fantasy world. It would have been nice if you didn’t even need to apply. The IRS has your information. It would have been nice to say, “You’re in this 86 code era, you’re a food service company, you’re a restaurant or you’re a retailer. Here’s your money based on your payroll from last quarter.”

We’re finding people are frustrated that either shut down their business or reduced it in order to utilize this money. They’ve got to bring people back and they’re navigating through those waters and what they want to do.

If you could have taken that 2.5 months of payroll that they were going to give you and keep people on the payroll for 2.5 months. The federal government’s paying for it, but that would have been nice. Hopefully, it will still work out in the end.

TAP 4 | COVID-19 And Manufacturing

COVID-19 And Manufacturing: Communicate with your team. Let them know that you have their best interest at heart and that you’re doing everything possible to protect their well-being.

 

Going back to the members, is any of them pivoting, whether to create PPE equipment? You mentioned that you have a bunch that are thriving, super busy and in need of extra staff. Talk a little bit about what’s going on there.

We have companies that make laboratory equipment. We have companies that make filtration systems for pharmaceuticals. We have companies that are making advanced process equipment and spray equipment. Those companies are doing very well. They’ve got a lot of orders and they’re very busy. A lot of them are looking to ramp up. In fact, we are going to be testing every individual in the country multiple times. That’s going to require a lot of equipment and a lot of stuff that our members make. The handful of them is doing well. We have companies that are direct suppliers to pharmaceuticals and have been forever. Those companies that are going to be doing well. We certainly heard the President say for 3 or 4 years that national security is one of the utmost priority and they’re seeing that the supply chain of pharmaceuticals is as important as the supply chain of defense. We need to not necessarily resource all of it, but we need to resource enough that we can not depend on the benevolence of other nations.

I would add a little bit about the pivot. It’s been fun to watch the companies and individuals try and rise up, but sometimes in a way that’s frustrating. When the governor says we are in desperate need of, fill in the blank, the phones rang. It rings everyone from someone who’s like, “I can do this the next day,” to like, “That sounds like a cool idea. Where do I start building this concept?” Harold gets a little bit of the filtration of that between us and trying to help to connect people to ESD and so on. We’ve had a nice number of companies say, “What can I do? We can help.” That gets funneled through that process.

Some good examples of quick pivots. We have a magazine that comes out twice a year, the HV Mfg. We were ready to go for the first week in April 2020 with our stories and everything. Three things happened with that. One, it felt a little out of touch. What we had written about in January and February 2020 didn’t feel as relevant as some particular articles. Two, the printers of magazines didn’t always fall into the essential category. Three, who wants to mail things out to have people touch? We’ve pivoted ourselves, particularly Harold and Alison in trying to highlight these stories. We’ve changed a few different things and updated the content. One of the things that we did was spend a little bit of time talking to companies who stepped up and changed gears.

One example would be Arnoff Moving. They’ve opened up, and Harold could probably talk more about this, in terms of repurposing their trucks to help with getting food where it needed to go and storing things. There are some stories with that. SUNY New Paltz has been in the news with their school of engineering and being able to do quickly the plastic face shields for medical workers different than the fabric face shields, but the protective gear there. In that, they partnered with a handful of our members, including Usheco in Kingston and I believe Hudson Valley Plastics in Pawling. There’s a handful of those stories that they were able to do it quickly because they were already doing something along those lines. Also, Orange Packaging in Newburgh did that quickly.

Communication is critical to run production as efficiently as possible while keeping the workforce safe. Click To Tweet

What fun to see is how quickly the intellectual property gets shared. “We figured out how to do this, but we can’t meet the demand, so let’s post that online where you can get that information from.” I think Harold sent an email to Pine Bush high school and said, “Maybe you guys have something that you could do to help.” They wrote back, “Production starts on Monday.” There are many of those great stories. I interviewed Kelly from Unshattered in Hopewell. They’re great at sharing their story and I’m a super fan. I’m always happy about that, but they did turn around. They were one of those companies that if you are manufacturing handbags, it’s hard to be considered essential. They shut down by the end of the day, moving everybody and getting to zero and closing their doors.

By 12:00 the next day, they were up and running making these masks and they were working with Vassar Brothers Hospital. The demand for that was so much more than they could do that they’ve started sharing their information and having a virtual sewing circle of everybody and anyone who could make a mask and drop it off. They’re helping to distribute that. There are many of those stories. I know beyond those stories are all the companies who wish that that was their story. They would like to help. They’re trying to figure out a way how can they make hand sanitizers, how can they do this? There’s no shortage of people in the Hudson Valley trying to find the solutions.

I want to chime in with the SUNY New Paltz project. We’ve been a part of that Advanced Additive Manufacturing center there, the 3D printing for a long time. They’ve been tremendous on the innovation side and helping our companies. They created this nice network through the last few years of high schools and small businesses. They’ve been supporting a lot of companies that have their own printers and they created this almost virtual manufacturing center. Dan calls it distributed manufacturing. Literally 3D printers across the region are printing designs that they shared from their computer. They’re cranking out these face shields that they’ve been making. I think 20,000 was the number that they last came up with and they have gotten to a point where they’ve 3D printed an injection mold so they can injection mold them. They’ll be making 20,000 a week. It’s very exciting to know that the teachers and a couple of key people at Randall High School, Pine Bush High School and Marlboro High School are also contributing and being part of the solution.

When you say that, Harold, that makes me think about the same thing with the relationships that our members and associate members have been building over the course of time. The fact that in our little microcosm of the world, things were as smooth in a worldwide disruption as possible because all the groundwork for that communication has been built for years. The relationship with ESD, our local officials, partners like Brian, this is all happening all long and then it falls into place. That’s the same thing on the educator side, on the workforce side, on the elected side and our associate members. That’s when all that came into play.

It hasn’t skipped a beat. I’m sure there are going to be stories where there are businesses that are closing and stories that are more on the negative side, but a lot of the positives are starting to shine through. It gives us a light of hope in crazy times.

There will be a ripple and an impact, but it would have been so much harder to go through without any resources to do so.

TAP 4 | COVID-19 And Manufacturing

COVID-19 And Manufacturing: As we come out of this, there will be a continued need to close that skills gap and to get good people to work in manufacturing.

 

Share with us on a personal level when you’re in your semi quarantined life at home, what are some things that you’re doing to keep sanity in the non-working realm? Is it Netflix? What are you doing around that kind of topic?

I will speak for myself. I’m resenting people that have downtime.

I am spending a lot of my downtime talking about the fact that I don’t seem to have any downtime between work-work and my work as an adjunct. I’m trying to transition that online, between work-work, schoolwork and housework, I could use a good eighteen months to dig out and get to the point of doing that. I will say there are little pockets of quiet in my house. We were an overscheduled family and still are. There are moments when my daughter lays on the couch and says, “What’s going on?” That doesn’t normally happen because we’re running into volleyball and running to soccer. I do try and find the teeny little bits of time to be in the moment and think I won’t get this back with everybody at home.

I will pick up on that and echo that. I’ve grown kids. They’re both homes from big cities of Brooklyn and Chicago and working remotely. Fortunately, both still have their jobs, but working remotely. It feels good to have them home. It is nice to have them there and to rekindle something that we’ve lost a few years ago.

It’s a response that I was expecting from two very hardworking individuals. We appreciate all the work that you do. Harold King and Johnnieanne Hansen from The Council of Industry, thank you very much for the time. I know you’re both busy, but this will be helpful to our clients and readers. We hope to have you back very soon.

Thanks for everything, Brian.

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