For N.H. Manufacturers, Supply Chain Keeps Rolling (For Now) | New Hampshire Public Radio

For N.H. Manufacturers, Supply Chain Keeps Rolling (For Now)

Mar 20, 2020

Workers inside Graphicast in Jaffrey (File Photo)
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

Booms, clangs and bangs — the sounds of a healthy supply chain — continue to echo on the production floor of Hitchiner Manufacturing in Milford.

While retailers and restaurants across New Hampshire are facing a sudden disruption in business, Hitchiner, like many of the state’s manufacturers, hasn’t yet felt the impact of the coronavirus epidemic.

“We are operating under normal business hours, currently,” said Brian Zimmer, a general manager at the maker of metal castings for the aerospace, defense and automotive industries.

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“We are trying to keep our eye on the news and governmental recommendations, and make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep the employees safe, while we continue making parts.”

The company hasn’t cut back on any shifts, but it is cancelling most in-person meetings. It also removed about half the chairs from its cafeteria, so employees don’t sit too close to each other during breaks.

Social distancing also isn’t an issue on the production floor at Graphicast, a manufacturing company located in Jaffrey with 25 employees.

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“When they are working, they are all 8, 10 feet apart,” said Val Zanchuck, the company’s president. 

Graphicast uses zinc-aluminum alloys to make parts that get shipped to other manufacturers. It may sound like a non-essential operation, the type of business that could be shuddered if a shelter in place order is issued by the governor. But Zanchuck doesn’t see it that way.

“Depends on your perspective of what’s essential,” he said. “I mean, to all of our customers, yes we are essential. We are the only source for the parts they are using in their equipment, so if we are not running that would begin the snowball effect. If we have to shut down, then eventually others would shut down, and you’d have the whole economy coming to a grinding halt.”

That’s a pretty good argument to stay open. But other New Hampshire manufacturers may not be able to make that same case. Consider the Douglas Company in Keene, where Scott Clarke is the president.

“We make better quality stuffed animals, like realistic dogs and cats, farm animals, wildlife, things like that,” he said, along with soft, cuddly products aimed at young children.

The company relies on factories in China, Indonesia and Vietnam for its products. Recently, its Chinese distributor went offline due to the outbreak there, but Clarke said that production is already back in place.

His problem is on the other side of the stuffed animal economy: all the toy stores around the country that sell Douglas’s products.

“Many of our retailers have called us and said, 'hey, we can’t pay you,' " he said. "And we understand, right. Because there are no customers in their stores, so there is no cash coming in for them.”

Clarke said his company can weather a short term drop in revenue, in part because of a good relationship with his creditors. 

“If it lasts for a longer period of time, two or three months, where the retailers are still closed, it’s going to get very difficult for anybody to pay their bills, or their payroll.”

If that plays out, we may all need something soft to snuggle up with.