Peter Coleman, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance, joins Amanda Del Buono to discuss how the coronavirus pandemic is challenging the manufacturing industry and its workforce.
The following is an excerpt from the interview. Read the full transcript here.
Amanda: Okay. You know, we've seen that, kind of you just pointed out, the impact that the pandemic has had on unemployment rates and then, obviously, many people are working from home and there are some facilities trying to run leaner. In general, how are you noticing the manufacturers in your area maintaining their staff? You said that they're running at full capacity but are they still keeping people in the facility? Are people showing up? Have they had problems with anybody coming into work, things like that?
Peter: Well, again, what I would identify as engineering, accounting, project management, those functions are occurring. Again, I would call those front office staff is head home and working from home. Have there been reductions and furloughs and layoffs? Yes. We're very encouraged by the new CARE Act that came out with the payroll protection plan that's coming in. So that gives us eight weeks of payroll subsidy that's in the form of a loan that will be forgiven if we maintain and keep our work staff above 80%. So, there are some significant policies being enacted at a federal and state level to really protect our industry, so we're encouraged by that.
Other areas, just how do we address concerns in the workplace and, if you have at-risk populations inside on the floor they oftentimes will self-declare and say, "I can't work because I am at risk," or they may be caring for somebody, or an older family member may be at risk. And then the last part is, obviously, the schools being shuttered and closed, how do you take care of your children? So, I think everybody is working on plans and policies to adapt to this environment. It's been difficult. Again, it's easier for a larger, more mature company possibly with significant human resource capabilities to handle. It's really difficult on the small-medium enterprise, that family-owned business.
So, understand what manufacturing looks like. 90% of our manufacturers in this area are fewer than 50 employees and usually, family-owned or closely-held businesses. And they may not have a robust HR department and they're still functioning. Then how do they learn to navigate this new regulatory environment, this new operating environment in the best way? So, there's a lot of questions there. Everybody's trying to do the right things and making sure they're operating with an abundance of safety in mind.