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Manufacturing is bouncing back, but supply of materials is struggling

(BUSINESS NEWS) As manufacturing demands surge, so do material costs. The pandemic has shifted where we’re putting our money, but supply is struggling to keep up.

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Manufacturing worker sealing a large pipe together.

As the United States’ manufacturing process comes back up to speed, a surge in demand is creating a shortage of the one thing manufacturers need in order to do their jobs: Supply.

Fox Business reports that, due to a much quicker return to normalcy for manufacturing than some expected, a price hike for materials is affecting everyone from the bottom up: “Prices for steel, aluminum, lumber and other materials are rising in response to higher order volumes. Commodity supply chains are now clogged with orders, causing some producers to add weekend hours and overtime for employees.”

The fast manufacturing rebound seems to be a harbinger of better days ahead, but this supply bottleneck could dampen producers’ resolve.

It should be noted that the spike in demand for goods which use the materials in question isn’t an entire surprise. As Fox notes, much less of consumer money has been going toward travel and dining out. This has resulted in more money flowing into things like appliances, vehicles, and entertainment commodities.

But the toll is hitting producers coming and going as things like depressed oil and the paper used in packaging undergo substantial price hikes, leading some companies to stockpile resources in hopes of having an edge in the future.

Others find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between lower profit margins or higher prices on manufactured productsa choice that is sure to impact consumers, if not the rate of consumption.

Indeed, some companies, such as Northwest Hardwoods, have an upper limit on the price they can charge on a finished product regardless of rising material costs.

It’s not all bad, of course. Global prices for materials like aluminum and scrap steel have gone up, which means people like Brad Serlinthe president of United Scrap Metalcan make a killing. “We can sell everything we have,” says Serlin, referencing “big orders” from recently busy steel mills.

As the pandemic wears on, though, one thing is crystal clear: The high demand for domestic goods coupled with rising global prices for materials is going to make for some severe price hikes in the coming months.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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Business News

As masks become optional, businesses find themselves stuck in the middle

(BUSINESS NEWS) One liquor store’s decision on mask policy following changes in local laws has become a recurring story throughout the nation.

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Woman in front of small business with two children, all wearing face masks

The American mask debate has comprised a whirlwind of clashing political ideologies, legal dilemmas, and personal agendas, with businesses placed directly in the middle of the storm. As the pandemic continues to run its course, a disparity in state mandates and legislation is only serving to increase the strain on these establishments.

With increased access to vaccines and several states rolling back their COVID guidance, the option to wear—or not wear—masks is becoming more discretionary, with businesses often having the final say in whether or not they expect masks to be used on their premises. One such business, a liquor store, posted a notice regarding their staff’s decision to continue wearing masks:

“In accordance with Johnson County mandates: Masks are now optional. Please do not berate, verbally assault, or otherwise attack the staff over their choice to continue wearing masks.”

The notice went on to say, “It is painfully depressing we have to make this request.”

That last line epitomizes many business owners’ stances. Places across the country have started allowing customers to discard their masks with proof of vaccination, but if employees choose to keep their masks for the time being, it’s difficult for clients not to view it as a kind of political statement—despite their decisions often being corroborated by local laws.

And, as long as businesses continue to operate within the confines of those laws, their decisions should be free from public scrutiny.

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening as evidenced by the notice posted by the liquor store in Johnson County. The same disparity that allows for some freedom despite COVID still being present in many Americans’ lives often leaves those who choose not to wear masks to conclude that those who do wear them are being judgmental or unnecessarily cautious.

Those judgements work in reverse as well, with businesses who allow their employees to work maskless facing criticism from masked clients. It seems that the freedom to choose—something for which people strongly advocated throughout the pandemic—continues to cause separation.

As businesses change or adapt their regulations to fit state mandates and employee (and customer) concerns, everyone would do well to remember that the decisions these establishments make are usually meant to affect some kind of positive work environment—not to welcome harassment and abuse.

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Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

List of Austin tech companies recalling staff to the office (or not)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Many Austin tech companies were reluctant to send people home when COVID-19 hit – will they be equally reluctant to put employees back in desks?

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returning to the office (or not) in austin

The masks are coming off in America and agree with that practice or not, many employers are in an ongoing series of meetings regarding bringing staff back into the office.

Large companies are quickly playing commercial real estate hot potato – we recently broke the story that Dell had not only sold some of their massive campus near Austin, but rented out the third floor of their building to the Army Futures Command (AFC). As the dust settles on these contractions, the next step is bringing humans back into said buildings.

The spectrum of individuals’ emotions regarding this return varies from enthusiasm, to trepidatious, to complete refusal to return.

As the global pandemic hit and employers were responding so differently to sending folks home, our list of Austin tech companies sending folks home (or NOT sending employees home) went viral.

At the time, we noted that keeping humans in the office makes sense for some sectors (service, hospitality, medical, even financial), called it an “impossible situation” for business leaders, but some employers were stupidly insensitive…

One executive told workers as they were allowed to work from home to not expect it to be a “corona vacation” (which did NOT go over well).

Our question is: Will employers handle a return to the office more gracefully than when they sent folks home?

Just as protocols were untested sending employees home, as some employers get the itch to call them back into the office, a whole new set of unchartered protocols will be implemented.

What follows are quotes from employees telling us about their companies’ statuses. We will update this list over time as we learn more. If there are updates to your company’s status, let us know here.

– Cognite AS

“As of June 1, remote/on-site as we wish. Fridays in-office preferred for team lunch/team building days. Must be vaccinated with shot record proof uploaded to our HR system to attend in-person events.”

– Dover Fueling Systems

“Currently it’s voluntary to go back in until some time in autumn when it will be required. Hybrid options are available. Masks are still required in the office when not able to socially distance but that might change soon.”

– EpisodeSix

“Devs and project related roles remote. HR in office. C level occasionally in office.”

-Fathom5

“Full return to work date of 6/21. Remote work on exception (heads-down, need to be at home to tend to a matter at home — cable man cometh!, sick kid, relocating).

While not company policy, I look forward to revisiting this in a few months, particularly as it relates to recruiting, and some implementations of tools to improve internal operations & culture; I expect these tactics in the office to improve working together OVER ALL. In turn, I hope to prove out conditions are met, that predict similar outcomes from working remotely.

This is the long way to say that our CEO did not have some positive experiences of WFH, which I suspect had more to do with us not doing WFH well/providing conditions for that. And, now I’m here so things will be even awesomer (technical term).”

– FEMA/DHS

“Currently 100% Telework. Plan to start coming back to office August 31, however, it has not yet been decided that everyone will return to office. Some may continue some % telework.”

– Homeward

“Our company was just getting started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like a lot of businesses, we shifted to remote work, thinking it would be temporary. As we grew from 20 to 200 employees remotely, we realized that a remote workforce offered a few advantages. But we recognize that in-person collaboration fosters strong relationships and sometimes makes problem solving easier. So when it makes sense to be together at our headquarters in Austin, we encourage teammates to do that, too. Employees are required to wear a mask when walking around the office or in common areas (restroom, kitchen, etc.), but masks are optional while working at a desk. Social distancing is encouraged and signage around the office denotes which seats should remain vacant.”

– Indeed

“Currently remote – working on hybrid and fully remote scheduling when offices reopen.”

“No one has to be in an office until at least September. 80% of positions have the ability to be remote or flex (part in person, part in office). Every position can be in person if desired. We are picking now (in June) what we want to do and can change our delegation one time per year.”

– inKind

“We’re back to the office since the team is vaccinated! Still have flexible WFH days but we’re excited to be able to work together again safely.”

– Lightspeed Systems

“All employees are primarily still remote, with the option to come to either office in Austin as desired for majority of employees. Masks encouraged when in common areas, but not required at desk. No plans to require in-office attendance have been expressed at this point.”

– MediaTech Ventures

“Staying remote. No need to be back in office but we would like to be back in office. Cost <> Benefit just isn’t there (which is to say, if space is vastly more affordable, we’d consider it).”

– National Instruments

“Currently: returning to the office requires manager approval with mask/capacity limits within the office
September 1: General back-to-office date with a lot of individual flexibility as to working remotely or in the office. Long-term location strategy is in progress, but will likely be a defined policy allowing a mix of remote and in-office work.”

– Netspend (a Global Payments company)

“Mar 2020—everyone remote, no exceptions, no office visits;
Aug 2020—survey sent about full-time office / hybrid office & remote/ full time remote preferences, split 1/3 in each category;
Oct 2020—closed/sold offices in San Mateo, CA, Alpharetta, GA, and downtown Austin TX (no layoffs/furloughs at any offices), talk of “return-to-office” delayed until new year;
Jan 2021—”return-to-office” talks, but decided to delay, no office visits except req’d/VP-approved personnel, masks req’d, temp scans req’d, social distancing, desks 6′ apart;
Mar 2021—”return-to-office” talks resume as COVID vaccine deployed, still req’d social distance, masks, temp scans, desks 6′ apart, etc., talk of some hybrid remote/office (flex days);
Jun 2021—”return-to-office” open season, masks/social distance optional for vaccinated employees, flex days by team determination. SOP going forward is team-by-team basis, no assigned desks (all flex/hotel stations) except Director & above.”

– NFP

“One week on, one week off since May 1 until they bring everyone back full time. No announcement yet but it can’t be far away. No masks if you’re vaccinated. Verify health status every day with an app.”

– PayPal

“Continuing with remote work until at least September. Expecting more details on the return to office plan in the next few weeks. Likely it will be a hybrid model depending on the team/business unit.”

– StitchFix

“Fully remote CX based in Austin (90 mile radius).”

– T3

“Going back to the office September 13 with a hybrid wfh/in-office blend we are currently working on team by team. With this (and the most exciting part) we’re also figuring out meetings days or times vs no fly zones so we can all focus on working time more. Not sure about masks – I think you’d only come in office if you’ve been vaccinated. We’ve also hired a lot of people not in Austin recently, so T3 is very open to remote workers.”

– Trammell Ventures

“Remote Work still; no dates yet for coming back to the office, but there’s talk of a company picnic and/or get together soon for vaccinated employees!”

– Verb

“Currently, the office is open for those who want to use it, but not required. We’re told we’ll be hybrid but we’re still waiting to hear what the stipulations of that are.”

– VMWare

“Office not likely to re-open until September. No firm date yet. Flexibility to be in office or at home depending on type of role. Most will have a choice.”

– Whole Foods

“Starting July 1, required to be in office 2x a week, starting September 1 required to be in office 3x a week. No mask or social distance requirement but we are required to prove vaccination.”


Click here to add your company to the list or to update the information listed above.


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