U.S. District 8 Rep. Pete Stauber visited Park Manufacturing in Cambridge on April 11 to meet with business leaders to discuss their current state of affairs.
“I’m happy to be here. Really, this is about you and for me to listen, what can we do, what do we need to do to help you from that federal level,” Stauber said.
Small businesses are still dealing with troubles that have been left behind from COVID-19 and Stauber came to discuss many of those concerns.
“My job today is to understand and get some help and advice that you all see on a daily basis,” Stauber said.
The price increase of products has made a huge impact on companies and any consumer.
“Prices are changing so rapidly that we are not able to keep up,” said Marlys Dunne, Park Manufacturing marketing vice president. “For the last 18 months we have been absorbing everything from fuel to material costs to our labor costs because we cannot get these passed on to these large businesses.”
Stauber wanted to get a little more in depth on what options have been considered in this case.
“So for the pricing, for example, will your supplier agree to a certain price over a three-month period like it used to be like, or are they doing it in a shorter time?” Stauber asked.
“Some of them are at time of shipment, we try to lock-in. Our big thing is copper. In 2019 we were paying just a little over two bucks a pound and I think it’s at $5.26 right now,” Kevin Knutson, Park Manufacturing president, said.
Joshua Face with Cortec in Cambridge explained what his industry is suffering from when it comes to supply chains and inflation.
“The plastic industry, they won’t settle on what the price increase was for the previous month until two to three or four weeks after the month closes, and they will say here is our pricing from last month and we have to go back to our books and change the cost of our materials,” Face said.
Dunne explained that due to the change in pricing weeks after the fact, they are not able to charge the consumers the difference.
“We’ve been sucking all that up, we have to stop the bleed,” Dunne said.
Stauber was a little surprised to hear the price changes and asked if they are the ones paying for the difference.
“When that price comes a month later, are you passing that on or are you eating it?” Stauber asked.
“We’re typically eating it,” Dunne said
“We’re eating it too,” Face said.
Stauber also wanted to see how this was affecting the customer relationship.
“Are you losing customers?” Stauber asked.
“We haven’t lost any customers, thank God. They don’t like price increases, that’s for sure, but who does,” Knutson responded.
In addition to the price increase difference, now the supplies can also play a role in the customer relationship.
“Is the delay in the supply chain, how is that affecting the product and how is that affecting your customers?” Stauber asked.
“We used to joke that it was month-to-month and then it went to week-to-week and then day-by-day and it is literally hour-by-hour trying to figure out what we can build, complete and what we can’t,” Dunne responded. “The coordination it takes to try and pull all these materials in and line it up with the labor force and hit that customer’s due date based on the hour it takes to rebuild it, there’s days where it’s impossible to do.”
Not only has this created a domino effect, but it has turned Park Manufacturing’s hard work completely around.
“Our customers used to have a 99.97% on-time delivery and if we had to change one order in a week, shame on us. There’s hardly a day that goes by where we are changing another customer’s commitment because the supply chain is constantly moving,” Dunne said.
Knutson said they are currently waiting anywhere from 52 to 56 weeks for products.
Not only has pricing and product shortage caused issues to small businesses, but labor has become an issue too.
“The industries across our district, doesn’t matter what the industry is, you talk about the labor shortage, who can tell me what they think the reason is,” Stauber said.
“We’re rolling the dice, we’re launching jobs and I bet you guys deal with this, we’re releasing jobs in anticipation of everything showing up and lining up, but the last six months have been brutal,” Dunne responded.
Park Manufacturing Human Resources Manager Tonya Fuller has seen a more in-depth view of the labor shortage.
“I feel like there are a lot of handouts being given out to people, so I feel like people don’t want to work,” Fuller said. “It’s not even about the money anymore, it’s about the convenience of being able to stay home I think.”
Tiffany Schomel from Plastic Products Co. has also seen a theme with the change in labor.
“We’ve termed it ‘gig work,’ to quote my boss. She says people wanna work when they wanna work and then they don’t want to do shift work anymore,” Schomel said.
Stauber mentioned that it’s not giving away money that will solve everything.
“Giving money to able-bodied people to stay home is not the answer, and I think we’re seeing that,” Stauber said.
Schomel also mentioned they have been able to be flexible for part-time positions within their business and see people don’t need benefits. But they have difficulties with part-time as there is still a shortage of employees. She said they are also starting to take days off whether they have time available or not.
“That hurts the overall morale and culture too because we have to run so hard. We’d like to have more balance back and family/personal time,” Schomel said.
As labor shortage is happening everywhere, Stauber wanted to touch base on the main aspect of working: dignity.
“John Kennedy and one of his speeches, I don’t know who said it, about going to the moon. They went down to visit NASA and he asked one of the janitors, ‘What do you do here?’ and he said, ‘I’m helping get a man to the moon’ — that mattered. So I think we have to look at the dignity of work and that’s what the fabric of this country is built on,” Stauber said.
Moving forward, Stauber is focusing on the career technical education side of the workforce.
“You’re seeing that labor shortage, you just need to push people into all kinds of work. Nobody is beneath doing anything, like that NASA worker who is helping to put somebody on the moon. I think our goal should be really to focus on getting people … into their career fields that they want. You never know who’s going to be your best employee that maybe the four-year college doesn’t work out but you value their skill set,” Stauber said.
Fuller did discuss the few that have asked about their positions but were just not fit.
“The last job fair that I went to was two months ago here locally here in Cambridge. I think five people walked by and none of them were able-bodied individuals,” Fuller said.
Schomel also mentioned similar to Fuller that there are not a lot of people available and able for their positions.
“Career Force here Cambridge and Chamber Cambridge, they do a really good job trying to help us, but the people coming in are not necessarily able,” Schomel said.
Stauber made sure to express what these businesses mean and how they can share what is going on to move forward.
“The good ideas come from the boots on the ground. Please tell us, we want to know,” Stauber said. “I am very proud of our district. Rest assured our district does not take a back seat to anyone, no other district in the country, I will not allow us to take a backseat to anybody.”