Supply Chains Show Fighting Spirit

This commentary was authored by Jeff Turmel, Director of the Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lubar School of Business.

On March 5th, I sat with a Fox6 News reporter to talk about the impacts of the spreading COVID-19 virus on domestic and foreign supply chains. In that conversation, I described the ways that companies were working to maintain their supply lines and trying to maintain a sense of “normality” facing the oncoming attack of the virus. At that time, I also explained that – even under normal circumstances – there are many factors that threaten supply chains, and companies routinely work to prevent or mitigate those attacks.

Since then, the world has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, with significant and far-reaching impacts. State governors have issued “Stay-at-Home” orders, global factory work shifts have been cancelled and, in some cases, entire plants closed. Gas prices have plunged, airlines are flying mostly empty planes, schools have transitioned to online classes, hotels and restaurants have closed, and we see shortages at grocery stores not seen since World War II. What a difference 40 days makes!

Just like in WWII, many Americans were surprised and staggered by a “gut punch” to our lifestyles that few of us could have imagined. But again, the fighting spirit of Americans has been on full display. While healthcare workers and First Responders have been appropriately lauded as “heroes,” other unsung heroes have also stepped up to keep supplies flowing.

Many companies have worked with little fanfare to swiftly build new, stronger supply lines – often with staffs working remotely. They have rallied to support and work more closely with supply partners and they have offered “virtual” products and services. They have run their factories staffed by smaller crews – many masked and working at “social” distances.  Other companies have even voluntarily “re-geared” to make healthcare products such as masks, gowns, ventilators and the like.

America hasn’t seen challenges like these in decades and we cannot know how this will all end.  We should, however, be impressed and thankful, for the unsung supply chain and operations “heroes” who have quietly stepped up to keep our needed products and services flowing.