COVID-19 has created immense economic challenges across the globe. As businesses navigate through pandemic recovery, many are forced to pivot to a ‘new normal’.
We know that New Brunswickers and their businesses are resilient, innovative, and agile. Many of our companies have adapted to the new reality and are succeeding in a post-COVID-19 world.
Mactaquac’s McDonough Manufacturing Canada was among many businesses that saw disruption due to the pandemic. General Manager Hugh Hawley says COVID-19 was part of a larger period of change for the company. “Many of our customers operate in the Chinese market. When trade disputes between China and the U.S. arose last fall, we were impacted significantly,” notes Hawley. “Just as that issue was being resolved COVID-19 was hitting China, and later North America. We’ve had a sustained period of challenge, but we’re getting back on track.”
ONB: What has changed for the company post-pandemic?
Hawley: Going into 2020, we had a healthy backlog due to the China/US trade issues, but we’ve been mostly fine. However, we did slow down again due to COVID-19. Fortunately, manufacturing is considered critical infrastructure, so we could continue our work provided the right precautions were taken.
We certainly had to pivot operations, ensuring office staff was set up to succeed while working remotely, which allowed us to focus on a backlog of engineering work. In the shop, for social distancing purposes, we reduced staff on the floor so people could spread out and still operate effectively, and we were still able to ship orders that were ready to go.
Making these changes allowed us to spread out our backlog of work over a longer period and keep operations moving steadily.
We’ve weathered the storm and I’m expecting our fall to be quite busy.
How do you see the business being affected long-term?
One of the challenges we know we’ll have to address in the coming months is supporting customers in regions that have not contained COVID-19 as well as New Brunswick has. Probably 90 to 95 per cent of our orders go to the U.S. We have a customer in Georgia, for example, with a brand-new machine, and they would love to have us down there servicing that equipment. I cannot send staff down there currently, both for ethical reasons and out of respect for border regulations.
We are now focusing on how best to support those customers south of the border for the foreseeable future, which is requiring us to adapt and pivot from our usual operations. We’ve hired sub-contractors from all over the U.S. to help with this, some are people we’ve worked with previously, others are new to us, so there’s some risk there. But it needs to be done.
What’s important now is a strong emphasis on careful project management and ensuring that all of our limitations and abilities are very clearly identified to customers so that they know in advance what we can and cannot do in terms of offering remote support. Our planning and communications simply must keep getting better, now more than ever. We know that if we plan well, we can absolutely support those customers remotely from Canada.
We have also renewed our focus on marketing and have hired a new Marketing Manager just weeks ago.
Has there been a silver lining for you at all during/since the pandemic?
There’s a Churchill quote about never letting a good crisis go to waste. We have done what we can to use this time to focus on some major process improvement projects in the shop. We completed the first in March and we’re working on a second, which involves tearing down parts of the shop and reorganizing, realigning processes with efficiencies, etc. So yes, I’d call that a silver lining; our bottom line, work quality, and health and safety efforts will all be improved.
Personally, I have enjoyed the increased time with my kids, they have been a breath of fresh air. I find myself a lot more conscious of how I use my time now, and that will be something I think about moving forward.
Finally, what three words come to mind when thinking of this period?
Reflecting, improving, accelerating.
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Keep an eye on all the support ONB can offer as it relates to dealing with COVID-19.