It’s been more than two years since federal authorities began requesting made-in-the-USA personal protective equipment to help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses across the country have pivoted to answer the call…or tried, anyway. But the struggles they have faced since then are a perfect example of two things that are very wrong with our economy: we are drowning in bureaucracy; and we don’t learn lessons.
Here is an assessment of the experience of a company that has attempted to manufacture face shields and N95 masks in Missouri:
“So far it has been a net drain of funds, resources and energy,” said Halcyon Shades owner Jim Schmersahl.
Although their efforts were fueled by a sense of duty to their country, patriotism alone does not sustain a business. Many of those who received state or federal money to do so have been forced to close or scale back their operations. According to interviews with many of these manufacturers, the reasons were logistical hurdles, regulatory rejections, declining demand and fierce competition from foreign suppliers.
Ohio awarded $20.8 million to 73 companies to manufacture pandemic-related supplies, state data shows. Of 60 companies that complied with a recent reporting deadline, more than a third were no longer producing PPE by the end of 2021.
The government asked American companies to adapt, these companies did, and then almost immediately they forgot about the supply problems that drove their demand in the first place and bought from foreign manufacturers anyway.
What a waste – and one created by bureaucracy and illogical purchasing practices. If we don’t learn the lesson now, we will be in an even worse position to deal with the next crisis.