While everyone is eager to get the economy started, get back to work, get back to normal! What we have seen this week with States and industry openings, may be a harbinger of the new “normal” at least for some time.
Since we know social distancing will stay in place for some months to come we can pretty much rule out crowded karaoke night at the local pub, or that big stadium rock concert you bought tickets to happening.
A few states like Texas and Georgia began opening their economies in late April. Almost immediately cases of COVID-19 increased in the Texas panhandle, due to outbreaks in meat packing plants amongst the approximately 12,000 industry workers. Although all plants did not reclose, early response teams were sent to test and get a handle on the outbreaks.
Ford Motor Company opened its American auto plants just recently and then was forced to shut down two plants temporarily. While one plant had a worker test positive and was shut down for disinfecting, another production line was halted because workers tested positive at a nearby parts plant – a link in their supply chain – and were unable to continue production.
We have seen the gigantic food industry in our country try to pivot their processing, packaging, and delivery resources to retail and away from restaurants – some of whom have shuttered completely, others still open but at a much reduced rate for take out only. While a restaurant can shut down in a day, a farmer can hardly stop a radish from growing or a hog from fattening up, try as they might. The food that would normally go to restaurants or big events now has no where to go. And this affects both small and large farms. It can take years to build up a customer base for your product. Farmers can’t just knock on doors and sell those products to a few grocery stores, and so that means loss. Not only loss of income but loss of investment dollars that just went to waste. And a break – if temporary – in the food chain even after reopening the economy. farmers may not have had the wherewithal, nor the confidence, to replant and regrow the next round
As we begin to reopen we may see holes popping up in several supply chains, not just food. What products should have gone into manufacturing or retail for sale are now hanging out in storage, or worse, have ended up in landfills. Once production starts up across the country (and the world) there is no guarantee that raw materials and goods and even services will be readily available on time – which is what a well working supply chain requires.
Besides supply chain kinks, possible worker absenteeism from outbreaks, businesses do not thrive unless they have that magical thing called the customer. While continuing to wear masks and maintain social distance are on reopening plans, what can’t be planned is customer confidence. A crowded waiting room once set a glow on restaurateurs’ hearts, but that sight might make potential customers flee. Imagine the sight of a crowded waiting room in the doctor’s office. It could be some time before customers are open for reopening.
And like the great recession from a decade ago, while we can’t be certain how quickly the economy recover, what we can be sure of is that at least some businesses will never reopen. We have already lost to the coronavirus Souplantation (and possibly all salad bars for all time), JC Penney retail, and at least 30 locations of Gold’s Gym that will never reopen.