Panelists at the Corridor Business Journal’s Economic Forecast Luncheon Jan. 26 offered perspectives on a wide range of business and workplace issues. Here’s a lightly edited sampling of some of those comments. Jack Evans of the Hall-Perrine Foundation moderated the discussion. Q: Outlook for 2022 Brian Oleson, president/CEO, Centro: In a lot of ways, it’s […]
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Panelists at the Corridor Business Journal’s Economic Forecast Luncheon Jan. 26 offered perspectives on a wide range of business and workplace issues. Here’s a lightly edited sampling of some of those comments. Jack Evans of the Hall-Perrine Foundation moderated the discussion.
Q: Outlook for 2022
Brian Oleson, president/CEO, Centro: In a lot of ways, it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. From a revenue standpoint, looking backward and forward, it’s extraordinarily strong. Our major customers are in agriculture, construction equipment, and lawn and garden. All three of those markets are red hot, and would take everything the supply chain could give them because they’re already sold. At the same time, I’ve never experienced where our supply chain efficiencies are insufficient to meet the demand. Looking forward, it’s all about execution.
Reggie Ward, general manager, Nordstrom Midwest Fulfillment Center: Our business has changed a lot over time. It started as mail order fulfillment, but over the last few years, we’ve focused on e-commerce. Our building in Cedar Rapids is direct-to-customer. We were positioned well when we went through the pandemic and being able to get products to customers with a lot of store closures. We went through about six months where stores were closed across the country, so at our building, we shipped about 34 million units, which was about 40% of everything that Nordstrom did. We also do about 15 million units of returns. Our business does about 75% of all the returns for Nordstrom.
Nate Kaeding, director of business development, Build to Suit: You were probably thinking more about keeping your businesses running and thinking through the new challenges of the pandemic as opposed to building a new office building or expanding on your current building. But then, thanks to Uncle Sam and a lot of PPP money, the floodgates opened in the summer of 2020, and we’ve been as busy as the firm has been in our 20- to 30-year history. We’re hiring new project managers and superintendents, and we can really go as fast as the supply chain.
Heidi Vittetoe, manager, JWV Pork: The last year has been a year of growth for us, which maybe seems surprising. While COVID has impacted us as far as our own workforce, the bigger impact has been COVID and its impact at packing plants. The paradox of this is, if things happen that impede the throughput of our packing plants, the price of meat actually goes up, because meat isn’t being put into the pipeline, but at the same time the supply of live animals starts to back up and therefore starts to put pressure on the price that people are going to be paid for pigs. When we talk about things like employee retention and bonuses, the first order of business is people have to know that somebody is looking out for them.
Hugh Ekberg, president and CEO, CRST: We definitely have strong demand, consumer consumption is strong. It ultimately comes back to labor. Demand is high, but supply is very short. This is a very efficient market, very fragmented, and rates move quickly. We’ve really tried to keep an eye on consumer consumption. It still does look good. But the thing that really drives is the inventory to retail sales ratio. What’s inflation going to do to consumer consumption? At some point it will have an impact and drop. When the supply chain does open up, inventories fill up. There’s two factors going on as we look at that inventory to retail sales ratio, because when that flips, we’re going to see demand for transportation drop off pretty quickly, and that’s going to have a significant impact on transportation.
Q: Staffing strategy for 2022
Mr. Ward: We’ve done a lot around incentives and flexible scheduling. We offer part-time scheduling, which has not been something we’ve done in the past. From a recruiting standpoint, we’re making the application process a lot simpler. We have to be able to adapt and create a culture where people want to work. We have a very family-oriented approach to employees, so trying to create that culture is the biggest thing we’re trying to do. But what makes it really difficult is that, with the different protocols and steps around the pandemic, our building was built for probably about 500 employees, and we have about 1,700 on staff now. Trying to keep social distancing so employees feel comfortable while they’re at work is a big challenge.
Q: Issue of drivers younger than 21.
Mr. Ekberg: We believe it’s a great opportunity for our industry. The truck driver shortage is a real thing. You can’t drive a commercial vehicle interstate unless you’re over 21. So, you can drive a truck from Dubuque to Storm Lake, but you can’t drive it across the Mississippi River, because you can drive intrastate, but not interstate. It’s one of the things that we believe hurts our ability to attract new professional drivers in the industry. We can’t talk to high school kids about our career as a professional driver. The infrastructure law that just passed actually included the DRIVE-Safe Act and the safe DRIVE Act does have an element in it, an apprenticeship program for a driver to be entering at the age of 18. It’s still being fully developed, lots of good structure to it. It requires that they’re in a new vehicle which has all the new technology, an automatic transmission, automatic braking, lane keeping, forward and inward facing cameras so you can actually monitor the driver, as well as a structured amount of time with a certified trainer.