When shortages of personal protective equipment were plaguing the state in March, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program mobilized to create a Critical Supply Chain List, a database of manufacturers who pivoted to making such items. Hundreds of companies signed themselves up on the list.
Paterson textile outfit Pecata Enterprises shifted to making face masks, as did handbag company LBU Inc. Unionwear in Newark pivoted to face shields. Unlike the CRM, or customer relationship management system, the NJMEP has used for years, this list was organized in a “more supply chain friendly manner,” said Chief Operating Officer Rob Stramara, where the user could type in a material they needed or a type of PPE and the companies that fell under the category would appear.
“With our critical supply chain list, I could say ‘here’s five companies making masks, reach out to them’ and the feedback was ‘oh, thank god I could get my masks, and I’m glad I can purchase it from another manufacturer in New Jersey,’” Stramara said.
NJMEP shared the list with the 51 Manufacturing Extension Program centers throughout the country, often helping to fill supply chain holes during a time of great need. To improve supply chain connectivity, however, NJMEP President John Kennedy says the country needs a national supply chain database, and that he’s working with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on a bill to create the infrastructure for it.
A national manufacturing supply chain database has been on Kennedy’s mind for some time. “In times like this, or in times of national disaster, whether it’s a 9/11 or a hurricane or in the situation with COVID, we’d be able to actually communicate much better in state and externally,” Kennedy said.
“[In communicating with other state’s MEP centers, someone would say] ‘We need gowns, who has the ability to sew gowns?’ We’d throw out a company in New Jersey that had the ability. Precision Textiles in Totowa comes to mind. Still, it was after the fact—it would have been nice to do that ahead of time,” Kennedy said.
A national database would also provide a better understanding of gaps in the country’s supply chain, and it could shed light on the common items that aren’t being sourced domestically. “Some graphs say about 95 percent of our blood pressure medicine comes from China. They’re a single source. God forbid something happened in China and they have to shut down completely. I have to believe that a lot of Americans are on blood pressure medicine,” Kennedy said. “If we don’t change, it’s too little too late.”
“We all talk about reshoring. We have a disaster and talk a great game, but it’s time for the change. I really do appreciate Sen. Menendez stepping up and helping us create a bill. Will it ever get to the floor, I don’t know, but I know it won’t be for lack of trying from him or his team,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m very concerned we’re going to get past this disaster like every other one and then ignore [the issues].”
MENENDEZ AND MANUFACTURING
Menendez recently offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would create a database for the government to use when it must take stock of and build up certain domestic materials in times of emergency or of war. In times of non-emergency, it would be available for manufacturers in need of material to use business-to-business through their state’s MEP.
The amendment isn’t included in the NDAA bill. Should it not be added, a spokesman for Menendez told NJBIZ that the senator is prepared to reintroduce the legislation as a standalone bill in the next Congress.
Though Menendez was not available for comment on his manufacturing related work, this wouldn’t be his first foray into support of the manufacturing industry. In March, he and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced the Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet Act to increase American manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, the building blocks of prescription drugs. As of March, only 28% of API-producing facilities are in the U.S. and the number of Chinese facilities has more than doubled since 2010, according to Menendez’ office.
“The coronavirus is a real health emergency and we have to do everything in our power to increase our preparedness and response today, and for the future,” Menendez said in a statement. “This bipartisan proposal will do that by encouraging drug manufacturers to partner with our best minds in higher education on new advancements, creating good jobs and increasing the national production of vaccines and drugs that can save lives. With New Jersey’s leadership in the life sciences industry and institutes of learning, we can lead the way and make a difference.”
In September, Menendez introduced the America LEADS Act, which would invest $350 billion to strengthen America’s manufacturing capabilities and weaken China’s global supply chain dominance. “America LEADS provides a comprehensive and coherent strategic approach for addressing the new, competitive, U.S.-China relationship and to define policies and allocate critical resources that combine and mobilize all aspects of U.S. national power, starting with a recognition that American competitiveness starts with investments here at home in our workers, in education, in science and technology, and in innovation,” Menendez said during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
New Jersey is home to some 11,000 manufacturers that employ around 380,000 people, which are “a lot of workers and citizens, and a lot of voters,” Kennedy noted. “You want to be aware of that constituency – especially when the average wage is over $90,000.
“I’m not a politics guy, but I have been impressed with our federal delegation and how they handle things – from Menendez to Booker to Gottheimer and Bonnie Watson Coleman, to Norcross because he does a lot of Department of Defense stuff. Mikie Sherill has been stepping up and learning the ropes,” Kennedy said. “Part of our job is to keep them up to date on what we’re doing; and them to support us, and our delegation supports MEP 100%.”
Workforce development issues and cybersecurity also effect the manufacturing sector, Kennedy noted. He blames workforce development issues on the lack of a pipeline into the industry. It doesn’t just affect jobs on the plant floor, he noted, as manufacturers provide jobs to engineers and marketing professionals and accountants and more. And with the world distracted by the safety of air to breathe and surfaces to touch, cybersecurity has been undermined across industries, manufacturing included, Kennedy said.
During Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a notice pointing out that since March, the New Jersey Cybersecurity Communications and Integration Cell had seen a 33% increase in reports of hackings and online security breaches, compared to the same period last year.
The data breaches, which affected businesses in many sectors, exposed proprietary data belonging to the companies as well as personal data belonging to their clients and customers.