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Making the best of things

The state’s manufacturers continued to work as the COVID-19 outbreak took hold

New Jersey manufacturers are dealing with COVID-19 by protecting their employees by having some work from home, while also continuing with vital operations.

Mary Novoa is the human resources manager at Boonton-based BioChem Fluidics, a manufacturer of pumps and valves for the diagnostic industry. BioChem Fluidics is facing a critical time due to COVID-19. The company is a components manufacturer that is essential to this crisis and the health care supply chain, Novoa said.

“When you go to the doctor, you have blood drawn,” Novoa told NJBIZ. “That blood goes into a vial, which then gets sent to a lab. That vial of blood gets put into a medical device. And so does the chemical agent that is going to give you the bloodwork results. Our pumps and valves actuate the tubing; it pushes down on the tubing to move the liquid at a certain speed. That is really critical to provide you with the blood test results. We are used in many different medical devices for many purposes.”

Some BioChem Fluidics employees are working from home and others are working from the office.

Mary Novoa, human resources manager, BioChem Fluidics.

Novoa

“Our employees understand how critical their work is in assisting the management of the outbreak,” Novoa said. “However, we have implemented a mandatory work from home policy for those who are able. Our goal is to continue to provide our life science customers with the resources they need to manage the crisis while still abiding by state restrictions and recommendations.”

The company made this decision after prioritizing the health and safety of employees, Novoa said. The company is limiting the number of people in the building, and has restricted access to employees only.
“All office staff and engineers are all working from the office on a very limited schedule and have been working from home,” Novoa said. “Those who are required to be in the building are practicing social distancing. We have also staggered lunch and break times.”

As of March 18, BioChem Fluidics had not incurred large costs related to COVID-19 and is collaborating with employees to ensure they are able to manage child care and to cover their sick time when they need to be out.

“If this pandemic spikes we will need to evolve our policies, but at this time we have a great group of dedicated people,” Novoa said. “It is too soon to determine any [financial] costs that may cause an impact to us as a small business.”

In addition to encouraging social distancing, BioChem Fluidics provides personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers and increased disinfection protocols. The company has not allowed employees back in the building if they have traveled recently and has restricted all domestic and international travel.

As of press time, BioChem Fluidics did not anticipate a break in operations. As the crisis evolves, the company will continue to enact its contingency plans as needed. Executives have not requested government assistance and their focus is on the safety of employees and the strength of its supply chain.

“It is critical for the business to remain operational so we can serve our life science customers and people all over the world can get the care and viral testing they need,” Novoa said.

Necessary presence

Beth Lambert is the chief executive officer of Washington, N.J.-based Herbalist & Alchemist Inc., a manufacturer of herbal products that are primarily sold to health care practitioners as well as consumers and health food stores. Herbalist & Alchemist products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and also comply with Health Canada supplier regulations, she said.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Lambert instructed some employees to work from home while others are working from the office.

“Most employees are still coming into the office because we are a manufacturing company,” Lambert said. “Their physical presence is required in making and packaging extracts and shipping them to customers.”

All of those workers physically present are necessary to perform critical tasks. Lambert said, “Our type of business is considered an essential business under the San Francisco Order, which was the first example we’ve had in the U.S. limiting what businesses can stay in operation.”

Lambert has been working with trade groups and the New Jersey Employers’ Association to understand and keep current on outbreak-related issues. She participated in an FDA conference call to understand what the government is planning.

“We have discussed all developing issues daily with our management team,” Lambert said. “Everyone’s ideas and concerns are discussed in our internal planning sessions.”

She added that the company is fielding an “unprecedented” number of orders. “As of [March 18], we are running up to a week behind in fulfillment of some orders, with people who don’t usually pack boxes pitching in. For large orders, if we don’t have everything in stock, we’re sending partial fulfillment. We have made this decision in case we do face the need to shut down.”

Concern about COVID-19 is causing stress in some individuals, Lambert said. “We are limiting overtime to low, necessary levels, but staggering shifts so that all of our employees can rest, be healthy and recharge for the next day,” Lambert said.

She said she will assess the financial cost of the coronavirus on her company over the next few weeks and months. As of March 1, she cancelled all non-essential work-related travel and asked employees to inform the company of any travel plans. Anyone who has been traveling will stay out of the office on paid leave for a minimum of two weeks.

“No one who is feeling sick will be allowed to come to work,” Lambert said. “All employees have paid time off to use as needed.”

Lambert is reviewing each day the point at which she will have to take a break from operating the company. As of March 18, she was not seeking government assistance.

Don’t break the chain

New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program President and CEO John Kennedy is providing information as the coronavirus is spreading throughout the United States and the rest of the world, as he wants to make sure the state’s manufacturers are prepared.

John Kennedy, CEO, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

Kennedy

“Not only has the virus impacted the day-to-day of many Americans, it has disrupted manufacturing and the supply chains,” Kennedy said. “Without carefully considering this, businesses run the risk of contractual breach and substantial financial loss.”

The supply chain is a particular concern. “New Jersey companies are in an ideal position to help others within the supply chain in order to mitigate overseas demand,” Kennedy said.

NJMEP is creating a database that showcases companies with capabilities to serve manufacturers and the supply chain industry. To request placement in this database, companies may submit information to www.njmep.org/supply-chain-preparedness-support/.

Peter Okun, director of marketing and public relations at the NJMEP, said he and his colleagues have been in contact with hundreds of manufacturing businesses to check up on their status, provide links and help them understand Gov. Phil Murphy’s actions regarding COVID-19. NJMEP is providing links and resources from the New Jersey Department of Labor, the New Jersey Business Action Center and Murphy’s office.

“We are trying to help them as best we can navigate these unchartered waters,” Okun told NJBIZ. “We are providing them clarification on what exactly the executive order means for manufacturing.”
NJMEP has established a hotline at Takeaction@njmep.org so businesses can ask questions and receive answers.

“If they are having issues with their supply chain, they can let us know,” Okun said. “We are working with them directly.”

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David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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