INTERVIEW: NACD prepares US distributors to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns

Joseph Chang

14-May-2020

NEW YORK (ICIS)–The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) is guiding its members through the coronavirus crisis and preparing them to emerge from the US lockdowns, its president said on Wednesday.

“We’re now shifting gears to focus on the ‘return to work’ side, where all our members have been operating the front-end of the house – the truck drivers and forklift operators – and the admin side. So we’ve put together some resources so they know how to get them both harmonised again,” said Eric Byer, president of the NACD, in an interview with ICIS.

“We’re also making sure we distil down the information that’s coming out of the states and the federal government as best we can. Most of our members operate in multiple states, so it’s a very challenging process,” he added.

The NACD is providing critical updates relevant to its members through its coronavirus resource page on its website, daily emails, weekly newsletters and virtual town halls.

On the policy side, the NACD is ensuring its members can apply and get access to the US Payroll Protection Program (PPP) which provides low-cost loans to small businesses that can turn into grants as long as at least 75% of the funds are spent on payroll.

Roughly half of NACD members have applied for PPP loans and received the funds, he noted.

And with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program now having been extended to 23 July, the NACD can focus on advocating that its members have liability protection with regard to the coronavirus.

“Now with the next recovery bill that Democrats introduced in the House, we must ensure there are liability protections for our members – something Senate leader Mitch McConnell said he wants for businesses,” said Byer.

This would ensure businesses such as US chemical distributors are protected from lawsuits that may arise from employees returning to work and falling ill from the coronavirus.

In the meantime, the NACD is engaging with legislators through videoconferencing and virtual site visits with members to see how essential business is being conducted on a daily basis. This strengthens the connection between policymakers and the industry.

“We’ve done Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls with our members and members of the Senate. So for 30 minutes we’ll have a members explain the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their company, walk them through their facility quickly and then have Q&A,” said Byer.

“We’ve done four to five of these in the last 10 days with Senate and House members. They’ve gone over very well and we have more coming down the pike,” he added.

HEALTH OF THE SECTOR
During these difficult times, US chemical distributors are generally pulling through, with product diversification a key strength, he noted.

“Companies have done a good job diversifying their portfolios so that high demand for products such as IPA (isopropyl alcohol) and ethanol for hand sanitizer helps offset weakness in oil services, automotive and other sectors,” said Byer.

However, there has been a slowdown in the replenishment of such supplies lately, he noted.

Coming out of the coronavirus crisis, the diversification of product portfolios will get even more attention among chemical distributors, he added.

Operationally, the industry has risen to the challenge of maintaining supply chains, said the association head.

“During this challenging time, most distributors have not laid off staff as they are essential service providers. They’re doing a good job of keeping both sides of the house working – the workers driving trucks and operating forklifts, and those on the admin side such as in billing,” said Byer.

HELPING COMMUNITIES WITH ESSENTIAL PRODUCTS
Chemical distributors are also donating hand sanitizer, soaps, cleaning chemicals and personal protective equipment (PPE) to health professionals in their communities.

“On a daily basis we get information from our member companies where folks are donating hand sanitizer and PPE like N95 masks or gowns to local hospitals, healthcare clinics, first responders and law enforcement. And they’re doing it because they care about their local communities and the folks that are serving all the citizens in that area,” said Byer.

“We’re really proud of our members and this shows us who they are in terms of the time and effort they’ve given to their communities,” he added.

Detroit, Michigan-based chemical distributor PVS Chemicals is producing hand sanitizer for its own truck drivers and donating bottles of the product to healthcare workers and first responders in Detroit as well as Buffalo, New York.

Listen to the podcast interview with NACD president Eric Byer.

Interview article by Joseph Chang

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