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From the
Senior Editor

Gretchen Salois

Come Together


he U.S. economy officially hit a recession in February, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. COVID-19 is reported to have started in December 2019 in China, soon making its way to the U.S. President Trump declared a pandemic and national emergency in mid-March.

It is not yet business as usual throughout the United States and in many places around the world. COVID-19 has no cure, no end date. Fabricators of all sizes are figuring out how to continue running their businesses while making workplaces safe for employees.

This month’s cover story highlights some of the challenges facing fabricators of varying sizes, from dealing with changing federal regulations, moving employees to remote work in their homes where possible, and maintaining overall social distancing between work stations on the shop floor. Today’s shops must also adjust as unforeseen customer or supplier hold-ups occur.

The 2008 recession still looms in the minds of those who dealt with dramatic losses and long years of recovery afterward. The lessons learned from that period have helped even though “a global pandemic was not on the list of things we planned for,” says President and CEO Sterling Jensen of Richards Sheet Metal in Ogden, Utah.

While some companies experienced a decline in business or some orders put on hold, that doesn’t mean fabricators have sat idly waiting for circumstances to change. “We are making sure to get our name in front of as many potential customers as possible” for when demand recovers, says Greg Williams, president and CEO of Southern Metalcraft.

While there have been some delays, for the most part, the consensus is that suppliers have remained steady with many in the essential manufacturing sector allowed to continue working throughout the shutdown, with longer lead times or delays/shortages of raw materials not too detrimental to business.

Fabricators are adjusting to proper health standards to avoid spreading the virus should a worker test positive—of those we interviewed, none had a confirmed case among their employees. However, in one instance a worker’s wife tested positive for COVID-19 at Weaver Fabrication. He and his family quarantined for 14 days. When re-tested, the family tested negative for the virus. Despite those test results, the state health department did not allow this employee to return to work for another two weeks. “The poor guy had bills to pay and he was begging us to come back and we could not let him,” recalls James Lauer, vice president and co-owner.

The path ahead is uncharted territory. The world is most certainly itching to get back to work but there are some changes made because of the pandemic that may prove valuable going forward after restrictions are lifted. Automating certain tasks and understanding a newfound flexibility of the back office working remotely are a couple of takeaways.

Employers are working toward keeping work life as “normal” as possible, given the circumstances. That includes taking extra precautions to keep work areas clean and adhere to social distancing guidelines for those coming into physical facilities, but also opening up the lines of communication to acknowledge the difficult new balancing act for many workers presented with children home without school or child care available.

It’s important to know the metal fabrication sector collectively is facing similar hurdles and we at FFJournal want to share relatable experiences during this time of uncertainty.