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Virus Brings ‘Things To A Head’ For Businessess

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on businesses across the country. It’s those that were already on unstable ground, however, that could feel the largest impact in the long run.

That might be none more evident than for Jamestown Metal Products, which notified its workers that the Blackstone Avenue plant will close by Sept. 4. The company filed notification with the state Labor Department last week, noting that 80 employees would be laid off as a result of the closure, further citing the economy as a reason for the shuttering.

Earlier this year, the longtime city-based company announced plans to lay off about half of its workforce.

A spokesman at the time said the goal in downsizing was to focus on producing items “core” to the company, including industrial fume hoods. Not only that, the spokesman discussed “long-term plans” to keep production going locally.

Mark Geise, deputy county executive for economic development and CEO of the county Industrial Development Agency, said he spoke to the CEO of Institutional Casework, which bought Jamestown Metal in 2009. Geise noted that the company actually rescinded its layoff notice to the state.

“(The CEO) said let’s wait before we go to this drastic step,” Geise said of his call earlier this year. “They were just trying to get up to speed and start concentrating on products like fume hoods.

“And then COVID hit, and basically all of the orders just stopped.”

Indeed, several business sectors have especially been hit hard by the shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in terms of net decline in payrolls, the largest hit has been taken by the leisure and hospitality sector since the outbreak. That is followed by education and health, professional and business services, retail trade and then manufacturing.

That shutdown has forced millions to file for unemployment. The state Labor Department last week released its statistics for the month of April, showing that the number of private sector jobs in the state decreased from March to April by 1.76 million, or 21.%. It was New York’s largest monthly unemployment drop on record, labor officials said.

The number of unemployed residents within the state increased by 931,600 in April, while the labor force dropped by 307,600, both monthly records.

The unemployment rate jumped to 14.5% statewide in April; at the same time last year, the rate was at a healthy 4%.

In Chautauqua County, the unemployment rate rose to 15.5% in April.

Included in last week’s data, the state said manufacturers shed 84,100 jobs from April 2019 to April 2020.

“COVID really brought things to a head for places that were already teetering to begin with,” Geise said, noting that with Jamestown Metal, the county IDA can assist the company market the building if needed and help workers who will be displaced find new jobs.

Asked how the local manufacturing landscape could look once the last of phased reopening takes effect, Geise said it’s too soon to tell.

“We just don’t know,” he said. “The dust hasn’t settled yet, and we probably won’t know the impact for some time. We may not know the impact for months to come. There are so many things messed up to supply lines, no one really knows. But we are keeping our ears to the ground.”

Geise noted going through similar periods of unknown during the Great Recession. However, he likened what took place in 2008 to a roaring train, a force indeed to be reckoned with but one that could be seen coming down the tracks.

“But with COVID, it’s like someone just dropped a bomb on you. You couldn’t see it coming or prepare for it in any way.”

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