KENTWOOD, Michigan — Monday is a big day for Michigan manufacturers. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is allowing production to resume at plants across the state. Reviving the manufacturing sector is a critical step in re-opening Michigan's economy, since it accounts for roughly 19% of the state's economy. Most plants have been completely, or partially, shut down since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"So, obviously it's had varied impact. We have many manufacturers who have actually seen this be a very busy time for them. If manufacturers were deemed essential -- for example, working in food processing, certain types of like heavy truck equipment was deemed essential and obviously if they're making any kind of medical device or PPE -- their business is going gangbusters right now and you've been working over time the past 6 to 8 weeks," says Justine Burdette who is the vice president of technical services at The Right Place.
However, Burdette, who also serves as the regional director for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, added that there are "certainly other segments of our manufacturing industry has been either working with skeleton crews or completely shuttered to comply with the governor's orders. So depending on what type of a manufacturer you are talking to you will get a very different answer."
West Michigan-based Steelcase is one of those companies eager to resume production. Steelcase, the largest manufacturer of office furniture, has roughly 12,000 employees and according to its website grossed $3.5 billion dollars last year. COVID-19 has not been good for its business. In March, the company suspended operations and temporarily laid off nearly all of its hourly workers.
"Early on, several jurisdictions, including the state of Michigan and a number of local municipalities, issued "stay at home" orders requiring all citizens not engaged in life-sustaining activities or essential business activities to stay at home. Steelcase moved immediately to protect the safety and well-being of our employees by having workers begin working from home and suspending operations as required by the various orders," said Katie Woodruff, global communication manager, in an email to 13 On Your Side.
She added the company is eager to return to normal operations this week.
"Today our manufacturing facilities in Michigan are ramping back up to 100% capacity and we are working aggressively to serve all customer demands," said Woodruff. "This is a critical time for our customers as they determine how best to bring employees back to their work sites and we are ready to serve them."
She says during the shutdown, Steelcase was able to serve customers by "taking orders from essential businesses like hospitals, making furniture and shipping and installing furniture." The company also produced critical PPE supplies, such as masks, partitions and other equipment.
In the short-term, Steelcase, like other manufacturing companies will be somewhat limited by customer demand and their supply chain.
"For instance, if you're in the auto supply business, you may want to come back online 100%, but that might not actually be feasible for you for the next couple of weeks," says Burdette. "Most Suppliers either have components coming to Mexico or being shipped to Mexico. And right now, Mexico is still mostly shuttered so that's going to be a huge pinch point for them in their supply chain. Some will ramp up quickly others it will take them a little bit of time."
She says 1 in 5 West Michigan jobs is related to manufacturing, so the sooner those companies can return business as usual.. the better.
"I would say, there are no silver bullets. As manufacturers are looking to reopen in the next couple of weeks if they haven't, do your due diligence. This is like any other challenge." said Burdette. "You're going to have to do your homework. Know what you have to be compliant with and make sure that your plan covers all the things that it needs to, but it will be worth it. It is very important to reopen safely."
MORE on 13 ON YOUR SIDE:
- Construction resumes, new restrictions on sites
- Tired of social distancing? Small gatherings will be allowed in Michigan's next phase
- Gov. Whitmer extends Stay Home Stay Safe order until May 28, reopens manufacturing
- ADP: More than 20 million jobs vanished in April
- Data shows 'major' drop in number of people staying home
- Senate Democrats propose $2,000 monthly coronavirus stimulus payments
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