The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is changing very nearly every aspect of commerce. Some businesses are being hammered and some are doing remarkably well. It’s stressful for all of them, though, and the shutdown has forced industry leaders to adapt quickly and think differently about how they’ll be able to survive in whatever turns out to be the “new normal.”
Inside Memphis Business talked with five local leaders in key businesses to get an idea of what’s going on and what lies in the future. That’s a challenge even in untroubled times. These days, we can’t know how well controlled the pandemic will be, nor can we be certain of all the variables and conditions in the marketplace.
But business leaders facing a situation that all agree is unprecedented still have to study contingencies and be prepared for whatever may happen in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Read these interviews for insights into the challenges they’re facing.
The economic earthquake that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic has rattled the logistics industry. Essential trucks, trains, planes, and ships are still moving goods, but the uncertainty of the marketplace is playing havoc with even the smoothest of operations.
Carolyn Hardy is president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments and Henderson Worldwide Investments, DBA Henderson Transloading Services. She’s also a member of the Society of Entrepreneurs and has weathered plenty of crises. But the current situation is particularly frustrating.
“Our customers are very uncertain about what’s going on with transportation and exporting,” she says. “They say that when goods come into the U.S. now, instead of taking two days to clear the docks, it’s taking seven days.” American Customs officials are reviewing imports more rigorously, which is choking the supply chain at the ports.
“That’s really put a hurt on the truckers because they just don’t have enough work,” Hardy says. In a recent week, she needed five containers, which is not much for her company. The trucking company put three drivers on it and they went to get the containers, waiting five hours to no avail.
“The next day they did it again and they finally got two,” Hardy says. “And normally we handle 10 to 20 containers a day. So none of us covered costs, to say the least.”
It’s a situation that plays out with variations over and over. There are lots of phone calls, she says, and paperwork issues. “The rules that were in place a week ago aren’t the rules that are in place now,” she says. “So everybody has to get back to the steamship lines, many of which are in India and China. Guess what? They aren’t picking up the phone. You phone, email, phone, email, and do everything you can trying to get to someone.”
Still, Hardy says, you keep employees working because things can change fast. On a recent Sunday, her crew was told to come in even though they weren’t sure if there would be work. And then a call came in, “and it went from a little work to a lot of work.”
“Chaos has been the name of the game,” Hardy says, “and we try to make sure that we keep the truckers informed because we know that if they’re not moving, they’re not making money. These guys out there feel they can’t shelter in place because they have to deliver the goods. They’re a critical part of keeping us going, having to deliver food and medical supplies. They’re the hidden heroes that people aren’t paying attention to and they’re exposed.”
Washington has been considering a tax holiday for healthcare workers, and Hardy says truck drivers deserve the same. At the very least, when “normalcy” returns, she’d like to see systemic changes.
“We need to have a lot of conversations about support for small businesses after this is supposedly under control,” she says. “That trucker is trying to make his note on his truck when he’s sitting in line for hours a week. He’s not picking up extra loads. He still has to buy gas. He still has to make his own wage. He has personal expenses, right? We need to figure out how we’re going to loosen up credit when things supposedly return to normal.”