The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many fragile points in our society.
For companies, the global supply chain was that weak link waiting to break under the right pressure.
Notably, demand has not been the issue here. Demand has been strong for much of the pandemic. But the typically linked forces of supply and demand that we all learned about in school have had virtually no impact on each other over the past two years.
The problems started when businesses up and down the supply chain closed, sometimes due to government shutdowns but, as the pandemic continued, more frequently due to employee illness or death. other needs, such as caregiving, that took them away from the workplace. These delays have impacted the supply chain (and continue to do so as China enacts new COVID-19 lockdowns).
At first it seemed like just another pandemic story, one of the many ways our lives had been disrupted. But as the pandemic shifted and the supply chain continued to struggle, it became clear that COVID-19 had in many ways just exacerbated and highlighted existing challenges. Manufacturing and transportation employers struggled to attract workers for years, if not decades. It is difficult to manufacture and move products without someone to do this work. The trend of outsourcing has dispersed supply chains across the globe, where distance lengthens any further delay.
These challenges are not new. But they got worse.
the Newest beige book of the Federal Reserve, which was just released last Wednesday, April 20, cited “supply chain backlogs, a tight labor market and high input costs” as obstacles for manufacturers striving to respond to the request. These rising costs included materials, transportation, and labor — in other words, pretty much everything that goes into making a product. Supply chain disruptions were holding back the construction of new homes and also delaying the start of non-residential projects.
Some may have thought supply chain challenges would ease with the pandemic. But although the pandemic seems to hopefully be waning, the challenges it highlighted in the supply chain persist. And there is no real end in sight. Companies are still struggling to find enough workers. An unstable political climate led to protests stopping shipping. The conflict in Ukraine has caused new pricing challenges. And extreme weather events – which are likely to become more frequent as climate change worsens – continue to disrupt schedules and production.
In northeast Ohio, homebuilders have faced a lack of supply, but also rising costs. Manufacturers too. We’ve seen industries, from autos to beverages, get creative to meet demand amid product shortages. The growth of e-commerce has changed some supply chains, changing the type of packaging companies need and the paths their products take to consumers. It’s not a negative change, but the market is different and it may take time to adapt.
In the end, I know we’ve only scratched the surface of the supply chain challenges facing Northeast Ohio businesses today.
I’ve been in journalism for about two decades now, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about the role it plays in our society. There are countless other – important – columns to write about what this means for democracy, for progress, for justice.
But on a smaller scale, journalism helps us share our stories. And stories help us see the world in different ways. In business journalism, we can learn about how different industries are affected by the same challenge, about the different ways companies are trying to solve it. Maybe you read about a solution from a peer that you want to try yourself, or maybe an anecdote shared by a company in a completely different industry than yours will spark an idea.
If you have a story to share about the obstacles your business faces – or how you’re adapting to fill gaps and meet customer needs – please get in touch. We live in an unusual time to say the least. Sharing stories and solutions could be a step towards what our new normal will end up being.