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Reaffirming Our Role: COVID-19's Impact on Chemical Distribution

With new developments on a minute-by-minute basis, it should be no surprise that even our most long-standing and competent institutions are struggling to keep up with the COVID-19 outbreak. As our government continues toward a hopeful point of stability in the face of the pandemic, at times it has felt as though American businesses are being given helpless or disjointed recommendations when trying to respond. Unable to wait for firm procedural guidance, business leaders have had to make unilateral changes to protect employees and customers. As a result, our economy has been rife with turmoil and disrupted supply chains. Although these issues have impacted our industry alongside the rest of American business, the crisis has done much to highlight what many of us know already: chemical distributors are essential, and we act like it.

Over the past few weeks, NACD conducted a survey of members on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many reiterated that the biggest problems right now center on confusion and supply chain issues, our industry has shown little hesitation to put firm measures in place to maintain a strong pace of business and protect employees. In a matter of just days after the outbreak began, distributors reported an assortment of new steps to combat the virus, including increased availability of personal protective equipment, non-stop sanitization, blocks on all but essential visitors, and hands-off truck bay procedures. On top of all this, 80% report being able to shift office staff to telework – ensuring that key functions remain operational in an isolated environment. This is a tremendous accomplishment not only for worker safety but for the strength of our companies’ organization.

Even through one of the worst short-term contractions in our economy’s history, over 40% of NACD members have reported an increase in order volumes (compared to 35% reporting no change and 25% reporting a decrease.) Given the context of the rest of American industry, this is a strong reminder of how crucial a role our goods play in the U.S. COVID-19 response. As a result, fewer than 15% of chemical distributors report cutbacks in part-time employee hours and fewer than 2% report layoffs of any kind. With a record 3.3 million new unemployment claims this month, it is impossible to deny the strength of our sector.

While none of this is to say that negative impacts have not been felt, there is clearly good cause for optimism and pride. A majority of NACD members indicated that the impact of the pandemic will likely be felt into the summer, providing distributors with a challenge to keep the momentum in the face of an extended crisis. Given the overwhelming competence and determination displayed thus far, I think it’s safe to say we’re up for the task.

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